In West Michigan, the bright yellow smiles that pop up in early March signifying the return of LaughFest are a welcome reprieve from cold, gray days. The 10-day festival celebrates “laughter for the health of it,” showcasing stand-up performers, improv and a variety of family-friendly events that leave people laughing. After all the comedians and estimated 50,000 participants the event pulls in have gone home, the event’s impact is still felt at Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids, a foundation that supports those affected by cancer or grief. LaughFest brings in 12 to 18 percent of Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids’ total needed operating revenue, helping keep the organization’s various programs and support groups going and free to all.
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 42 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, or impacted due to the death from any cause, not only 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 in their life. Relying solely on donations, the club puts on more than 265 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:
According to their 2018 Impact Report, Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids was one of the busier affiliates in the country. Here’s a little about what they accomplished:
- 12,000+ hours were gifted by the club’s volunteers
- 1,140+ adult cancer and grief support groups were held
- 635 youth and family programs were offered
- 9,400+ 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 www.gildasclubgr.org or visit one of their West Michigan clubhouses:
- Grand Rapids: 1806 Bridge St., (616) 453-8300
- Lowell: 314 S. Hudson St., (616) 897-8600
For more about LaughFest as well as ways to seek support when dealing with cancer, check out these blogs on AHealthierMichigan.org:
- The Facts About Colorectal Cancer
- Ways to Support a Friend in Breast Cancer Treatment
- Get Support from Others for Your Breast Cancer Fight
Photo credit: A Healthier Michigan