“My big thing is to take the organization to the next level, to continue to invest in research, to really expand our services to our patients,” Talarico comments. “Our goal is always to raise more money and reach more patients as early as possible.”
The LLSC raises millions of dollars annually for research in new blood cancer treatments, therapies and cures. In 2016 alone, the organization raised $12.2 million.
Its mandate also focuses on improving the quality of life of patients with blood cancers through various programs and support initiatives. “Blood cancer is not preventable. You go in for a regular blood test and find out you have blood cancer. It can be a scary time for patients. We don’t want them to rely on internet searches for information. We want them to have the right information.”
Talarico has dedicated her career to helping people. After completing a BA in psychology and a certificate in marketing from Concordia University in 2001, Talarico headed to the U.S. to open a group home for high-risk adolescents. “I always wanted to be a consumer psychologist, which is why I also studied marketing,” Talarico explains. “When I moved back to Montreal in 2003 and went to work for Big Brothers and Big Sisters, I knew then that my career trajectory was going to be non-profit.”
In 2006, Talarico joined the LLSC team as a branch manager; her mission was to establish a Quebec office. At the time, the LLSC had no real presence or representation in the province. “It wasn’t even an office. It was really a branch of the Toronto office,” she recalls.
The first event Talarico and her colleagues brought to the province was Light The Night – LLSC’s annual walk which sees participants carrying illuminated lanterns to raise money and awareness for blood cancer research. “It started evolving after that. It was, ‘OK, let’s get a staff, let’s do more fundraising.’ And as we started building our region, we could then offer services to patients,” Talarico continues.
Light The Night remains a highlight of the LLSC fundraising calendar. In 2017, over five thousand participants gathered at Jean Drapeau Park for the walk. Organizers expect just as many at the next walk in October of this year. Over the years, Talarico continued to climb the ladder at LLSC, becoming executive director for the Quebec region in 2008, executive director for the Atlantic regions in 2010, and then vice president of revenue development and engagement in 2012.
In the summer of 2016, Talarico’s superiors approached her about the possibility of becoming president in May of the following year. It was an opportunity she couldn’t refuse. The new position guaranteed that Talarico, her husband, Nykolas Bulka, and their growing family remain in Montreal – more specifically, on the South Shore where both she and Bulka grew up. “There weren’t very many Italians on the South Shore,” she muses.
Talarico’s father was born in Gizzeria, Calabria. Her mother is Marchigiana, from the village of Pozza. “My dad was a sales manager, and Boucherville was one of his territories. My parents liked the area, and we were still close enough to visit our family in St-Leonard on the weekend – just a quick drive through the tunnel.” How does she juggle two children under the age of three and a new career? “I went back to work when my baby was six-months-old. I’m very lucky because my husband is very supportive. And both my parents and my in-laws are very present,” Talarico explains. “I don’t have a secret power. I have a really good team around me supporting me and I would say it’s the same at LLSC.”