Marina Miller’s story says a lot about the strength of the human spirit, the failure of B.C.’s children’s services, and the incredible generosity that can be found in a small community.
Miller recently learned that Otter Point Dental will be donating about $35,000 of dental work to help the five siblings she’s raised.
But we’ll return to that.
The tale dates back 10 years when Miller, who was 25-years-old at the time, discovered her five half-siblings, aged three to nine, were in danger of being placed in the child welfare system.
Miller, abandoned as an infant, was raised by her grandparents, but learned her mother and step-father were not providing adequate care for the five children.
“I saw a bad situation and for me splitting these children up was a hard no. I acted on what I thought was the right thing,” Miller said.
She took what she now describes as “some very bad legal advice” and signed papers that gave her guardianship of the children and made her responsible for their care.
“I wasn’t even thinking about the cost, back then, just that it was something I had to do.”
But the right thing to do was an expensive proposition and for five years Miller struggled to get government help in coping with the new responsibility.
“I was told that if I wanted support I would need to rescind the (guardianship) agreement, declare myself as a delinquent parent, and drop the children at the intake office,” Miller said.
From there, she was told that she could apply to have the children returned, but there would be no guarantees on how long it would take or if they would be returned at all.
“That wasn’t going to happen. How could I do that to these children?” Miller asked.
The situation deteriorated and in 2015 Miller lost the family home to foreclosure. Still, she struggled to operate her fledgling business and support herself and her five young siblings.
“All my attempts for support went unanswered and in 2015 I stopped fighting. It was too emotionally devastating,” Miller said.
Shift to present day.
Miller, now 35, was at the hairdresser talking about how she’d learned that the children, now aged 13 to 19, were in serious need of dental care and how the bill would be $35,000.
She was overheard by Joanna Pietler, the office manager of Otter Point Dental, who was immediately moved by the situation. She got Miller’s phone number and took it back to her office where things moved quickly.
Dr. Frank Van Gyn and Dr. Tera Groff of Otter Point Dental immediately advised Miller that the cost of the orthodontics and other dental work would be provided at no cost.
“It was a no-brainer to help. These are such fantastic people, they deserve to have some help,” Groff said. “Marina is not a victim, she is smart and strong and an advocate for others in her situation.”
Groff said Sooke is a close-knit community and that it’s only natural to offer help to those who need it.
To that end, the Otter Point practice has for years offered one day of free dentistry to the community and Groff admits she frequently does pro bono work in her off hours.
“I believe that the universe brings us the opportunity to help others. We have so much, more than we need really. It’s just right to help others.”
It’s a sentiment shared by another Sooke dentist, Dr. Chris Bryant, who said that his practice frequently helps out patients in need.
“It’s not just dentists, either. In this community everyone does this sort of thing. Whether its a mechanic, a dentist or someone sharing a box of apples with a neighbour. We help each other.”
But the generosity has gone a long way in restoring Miller’s faith in humanity.
“Joanna overheard me talking and looked over and said ‘We can fix this’,” Miller said.
“That’s what should have happened with the government. Instead I’ve had countless meetings with government employees and social workers and been offered nothing but ‘brain-storming sessions’ that always had me putting these children into the system. It’s shameful.”
In February 2018 Miller tried again, this time sending a letter the riding’s MLA and Premier John Horgan, asking for his help.
It was three months before she received an email reply, not from Horgan but from the acting director of child welfare policy, Sarah Gosman. The email offered no help, or even a review of the case, but touted the government’s work on the difficulties that some families experience.
“The only assistance I’ve ever had came from a stranger at the hairdresser stepping up to help out,” Miller said.
“It shouldn’t be that way, but I’m so grateful that it’s hard to describe.”