Behind Laughfest

Behind Laughfest

When an estimated 50,000 people gather together in western Michigan this month for the 10-day festival LaughFest, they aren’t just going to have a fun night out, they will also be supporting an incredibly worthy organization: Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids.

Gilda’s Club is a foundation that supports those impacted by cancer. The festival brings in 10 to 15 percent of Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids’ total annual donations, helping keep the organization’s various programs and support groups going.

What exactly is Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids?

After comedian and actress Gilda Radner died from cancer in 1989, her husband and her cancer therapist teamed up to start the first Gilda’s Club in New York City. The goal: to support those affected by a cancer diagnosis. Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids, which is one of the 44 affiliated clubs that now exist, opened its doors in February, 2001.

To carry on its mission, the Grand Rapids club provides emotional support to those in Michigan touched by cancer. This could be children and adults going through diagnosis, treatment or recovery, families and friends watching a loved one go through the journey or those grieving the death of someone due to cancer. Relying solely on donations, the club puts on more than 300 activities and events around western Michigan every month for free.

“Nobody should be on a cancer or grief journey alone,” says Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids president Wendy Wigger. “Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids provides a place to connect with people – to express and embrace all of the emotions you’re going through.” The club’s support groups, events and activities, which are put on by licensed professionals, serve approximately 10,000 individuals every year.

The impact the club has on the community:

In 2015, Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids was one of the busier affiliates in the country. Here’s a little about what they accomplished last year:

  • 4,000+ West Michigan students were reached through in-school programs
  • 1,200+ volunteers gave their time and talent
  • 9,700+ members and guest connected over free meals offered as part of program

Curious about how to get involved?

To learn more, find events or volunteer, visit or visit one of their West Michigan clubhouses:

  • Grand Rapids: 1806 Bridge St., (616) 453-8300
  • Lowell: 314 S. Hudson St., (616) 897-8600

You can also gather your family to compete as a team in the Seriously Funny Family Adventure Challenge on Sunday, March 20 at 1 p.m. This race across downtown Grand Rapids includes fun and exciting timed challenges and is sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and Blue Care Network. To learn more about events happening throughout the festival, check out

For more about LaughFest as well as ways to seek support when dealing with cancer, check out these blogs on

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