Gilda’s Club Supports Cancer Patients and Their Families


October 22, 2011
Lawrence Technological University,
Cost: $25 adults, $10 children

There’s no shortage of organizations providing cancer-related care, education and research. But one Metro Detroit organization provides what others don’t: emotional and social support for cancer patients and those close to them.

Perched on Rochester Road in Royal Oak, Gilda’s Club Metro Detroit looks more like a spacious home than a cancer organization, and in many ways, it is. Some 12,000 people walk through the nonprofit company’s signature red door annually to attend support groups, educational sessions, workshops and social events. They all have one thing in common – cancer has touched their lives in some way.

“We focus on the whole family, and we use the term ‘family’ loosely,” said Heather Hall, executive director of the organization. “It could be friends too.”

To that end, Gilda’s Club provides support activities for all ages – children, teens, adults – there’s even a separate group for parents with cancer. There are support groups where people facing similar experiences can meet and talk, educational lectures on cancer-related topics, workshops that include everything from yoga to music to beading, and social events like the monthly coffee house evening.

“We like to say we offer support whatever the outcome, so we have bereavement groups for those who have lost loved ones to cancer,” Hall explained.

Gilda’s Club also hosts meetings at Botsford Hospital in Farmington Hills, including yoga workshops and wellness support groups.

“Everything we offer is free,” Hall explained. That includes membership in the organization – there are more than 7,100 – which starts with attending a new member meeting on Monday at 1 p.m. or Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. to learn about what the organization offers.

Members can choose which events to attend, depending on their needs, Hall said. One member may want to learn all about his or her disease while another may just want to attend social events or do some yoga for exercise.

The organization depends heavily on volunteers and fundraising events, although it does receive funding in the form of grants, and individual and corporate donations.

Gilda’s Club hosts an annual gala called Gilda’s Big Night Out in the spring, and also Gilda’s Family Walk, which takes place Oct. 22 at Lawrence Technological University in Southfield. The two-mile walk on campus grounds starts at 8 a.m. and includes live entertainment, kids’ activities, concept vehicle displays and – new this year – a 20-vendor health fair.

The cost is $25 for adults and $10 for children. Register online at www.firstgiving.com/gildasclub and start a fundraising page.

Gilda's Club

In addition, runners in the Oct. 16 Detroit Free Press Talmer Bank Marathon can register to run for Gilda’s Club and raise funds for the organization. When you register as part of the Gilda’s Club team, you get a t-shirt, the chance to win prizes for being a top fundraiser and access to Charity Village at the race, where runners can store their personal belongings and have access to snacks and prizes. 

Because of Gilda’s Club’s good reputation in the community, the organization also benefits from plenty of third-party fundraising events. For example, Bras for a Cause, held annually at the Royal Oak Music Theatre, raised $85,000 for Gilda’s Club last year.

Gilda’s Club was founded in 1998 in memory of Detroit comedienne Gilda Radner, who died in 1989. Radner has visited The Wellness Community, a support organization for cancer patients, after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer and said it was where she “found her laugh again.”

In 2009, Gilda’s Club merged with The Wellness Community, based in Washington, D.C.  Together, the organizations make up the Cancer Support Community, with more than 60 affiliates throughout the United States and Canada and running 22,400 support groups for about 500,000 people touched by cancer.

“They have done phenomenal research on the benefits of emotional and social support,” Hall said of The Wellness Community. In turn, Gilda’s Club provided support groups for children – an age group The Wellness Community had not yet tapped.

Gilda’s Club’s red door continues to symbolize a welcoming place for cancer patients and their loved ones. “Once people walk in the door, it’s very welcoming,” Hall said of the 9,500-square-foot building where members meet.

For more information about Gilda’s Club or to volunteer or donate funds, visit www.gildasclubdetroit.org.

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