Nonprofit provides remote cancer and grief support: Adjusting to a "new normal" at Gilda's Club

Gilda's Club is known for its wide range of in-person services at their clubhouses in Grand Rapids and Lowell. How has the COVID-19 Stay-at-Home order affected those services?

There are no breaks when it comes to cancer and grief, even during the current COVID-19 pandemic. During this time of uncertainty and social distancing in the physical sense, the need to stay socially and emotionally connected to our support system is greater than ever before. As a free cancer and grief support community, Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids is committed to serving the community during this difficult time by offering its in clubhouse support program in a virtual setting.  

How is Gilda's Club changing to offer support virtually?

By remaining true to our motto, “In This Together…. Learn, Share, Laugh” Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids is dedicated to serving the community through offering a variety of support groups, educational workshops, and lectures, as well as social times for our members to connect, all through a virtual platform.

One-hour long groups facilitated by master level professionals are being conducted via Zoom, a HIPPA-compliant platform that allows group members to meet by video or phone. Additionally, program staff are available by phone at 616-453-8300 for one-on-one support and are actively reaching out to connect with members.  

What type of feedback have you received about the new virtual services?

This time of uncertainly is difficult for everyone, but it can be especially difficult for those who are on a cancer journey, either by a cancer diagnosis themselves, impacted by cancer, or are grieving the death of a loved one due to any cause of death. Those who have recently had someone die have an especially challenging time navigating grief with the COVID stay at home order.

We have a human need and desire for connection, especially during life’s toughest chapters. This is made even tougher when we can’t gather in person. Our members continue to express great appreciation for the steady psychosocial support they continue to receive through Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids virtual program, along with the importance of being able to have social and emotional support virtually during this time through Gilda’s Club here in our community.


In March, Gilda's Club made the decision to cancel the last 3 days of LaughFest. What went into this decision and how has it influenced fundraising?

With the select number of the major LaughFest events being postposed to the fall, we are hopeful this this will have minimal impact to the overall proceeds of the festival and the bottom line impact to Gilda’s Club. There are understandably some expenses we are unable to recoup due to the sudden stop of the festival. We know the West Michigan community has been and we trust will continue to support Gilda’s Club and LaughFest and its ability to offer its free emotional health program. Donations are welcomed and needed year-round. Currently, our annual Spring Appeal fundraiser in process and West Side Walk is happening in September. Those interested in supporting our programs can learn more at gildasclubgr.org.

How has the nonprofit pivoted its fundraising efforts?

As a private non profit organization here in West Michigan, Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids relies 100% on charitable funding. Truly, it is because of the support and generosity of the community [and] dedication to the mission, that Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids continues to provide free psychosocial support for people on a cancer and grief journey.

Through creativity, innovation, and connection, our community and team continue to rise to the challenge in meeting the needs of our community and we look forward to continued collaborations, partnerships, and donations to ensure the mission continues to thrive here in West Michigan.

Although we are not currently able to gather for fundraising event due to the current heath climate, we continue to raise awareness and much needed funding to support our free program. With the added expense of “opening” our virtual clubhouse and the impact on the proceeds LaughFest helps to provide, we can use the community’s financial support more than ever. You may stay connected with, and support Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids, by visiting our website at www.gildasclubgr.org or calling 616-453-8300.

Given the high risk categories for those seeking services from Gilda's Club, what does the future look like for programming at the clubhouses?

forward to the time when we can gather in person safely, we know it will be a “new normal.” In addition to adhering to CSC and state guidelines, we are in current conversation with statewide and national cancer affiliated organizations evaluating best practices moving forward. The results will be a slow and gradual reopening of our in-person programs starting with our support groups, followed by our workshops and social events.

If someone has never accessed a program at Gilda's Club, what should they know?

We continue to welcome new members here at Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids through our virtual platform, and invite all who are experiencing cancer or grief due to any cause of death to connect with us here at Gilda’s Club. You may give us a call at 616-453-8300 or visit our website at gildasclubgr.org to learn more and connect with Gilda’s Club and the free emotional and social support readily available to continue to serve our community virtually during this time.

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Lindsay Jousma, LMSW currently serves as Director Program Operations at Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids, and has 12 years of experience providing psychosocial emotional health support for individuals and families. She holds a masters degree in social work from Western Michigan University. 
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