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Uncommon Convos

Joy McMeekan Interview | Uncommon Convos | Episode 025

Joy McMeekan Interview

Home » Blog » Joy McMeekan Interview | Uncommon Convos | Episode 025
Joy McMeekan


In this episode of Uncommon Convos Dennis talks with Executive Director, Joy McMeekan of Gilda’s Club Quad Cities. Joy left the corporate world after losing both her Husband and her mother to cancer. With this experience she was led to be a part of Gilda’s Club. Joy talks about the struggles she had with dealing with the loss of her husband and mother to cancer and what resources Gilda’s club offers to all those affected by cancer.

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Full Episode Transcript

Dennis (00:00)
There exists a brutal truth for most of us that at some point in your life, you or a loved one will have to combat some form of cancer. Gilda’s Club, named after the talented comic actress Gilda Radner, who died from ovarian cancer in 1989, is a wonderful organization which helps patients and their families deal with the challenges of cancer. Stick around to meet Joy McMeekan, who can tell us all about this amazing program. Hi, I’m Dennis VanDerGinst. Join me in a series of entertaining and interesting conversations with entertaining and interesting people. We’ll explore various aspects of the human experience and what makes life more fun. This is Uncommon Convos. Welcome to Uncommon Convos. I’m your host, Dennis VanDerGinst, and before I introduce our guest today, I want to encourage you to subscribe to, rate and review Uncommon Convos on your favorite podcast platform. It’s completely painless, quick, easy, and free. And when you subscribe, you’ll automatically be alerted to when new episodes are available. Also, don’t forget, you can learn more about Uncommon Convos. Leave comments, suggestions, and watch the video version of our episodes simply by visiting uncommonconvos.com. Lastly, I want to thank our wonderful sponsor, VanDerGinst Law. If you are injured on the job or due to the wrong doing of another, VanDerGinst Law would be honored to help. Simply go to vlaw.com for more information.

Dennis (01:41)
Now, it’s my pleasure to introduce today’s guest, Joy McMeekan, the executive director of Gilda’s Club Quad Cities. Joy decided to leave the corporate world behind several years ago after losing both her husband and her mother to cancer. So she understands the impact that a cancer diagnosis has on families and the importance of a support system to deal with those challenges that come with that diagnosis. My wife and I have likewise been personally impacted by cancer, and I serve on the board of Gilda’s Club. So it’s especially meaningful to me to have Joy on today to speak about the wonderful programs and resources that Gilda’s Club has to offer. So thank you so much, Joy, for being here. How are you today?

Joy (02:28)
I’m good. Thank you so much for having us. We really appreciate it.

Dennis (02:32)
So before we get started talking specifically about Gilda’s Club, I mentioned at the onset that you have had your own personal tragedy associated with cancer. Can you give us a little bit of a background about yourself and what it was that led you to Gilda’s Club?

Joy (02:52)
Sure. Yeah. I never in my wildest dreams probably ever thought that I would be at a nonprofit. It wasn’t something ever on my radar, but I worked in retail. I was a retail buyer for almost 20 years here locally. And at the age of 43, my husband was 45. He was diagnosed with a terminal cancer. He actually had appendix cancer, so he was diagnosed at the end of October, and we lost him in April of that following year. So left me with three young kids. Our youngest at the time was three, and I think our oldest was 13. And so shortly after that, about six months after he passed away let me back up. During that time, I was still working. I traveled a lot with my work. And so when he passed away, my mom helped me a ton. And so six months after my husband passed away, my mom was diagnosed with a glioblastoma, went from being totally normal we thought she had a stroke to found out she had a glio, and they were giving her a week to live. She fortunately lasted about four months. But after she passed away, I really was at a crossroad in my life, and I thought, I love my job, but I can’t keep doing what I’m doing and what do I want to do? And I’d sit there and look through the want ads, and I wanted something that had given back. Prior to me losing my husband, my brother was killed in action. He was a Navy Seal. And so through all the tragedy, I knew the importance of having a team of support around you to help you through and connecting with people that were going through the same thing to make you feel like you were normal and what you were feeling. And so one of my friends actually worked at Genesis in the marketing department and reached out to me one day and said, hey, are you still looking for a job? Gilda’s Club is opening. And at that time, you would think with me going through and being touched by cancer, I would have known more about Gilda’s Club. I had heard of it. I didn’t know exactly what they did, so I thought, well, I’ll check it out. I don’t know. It’s something completely different. And went met with the executive director at the time and the entire team and just fell in love with the mission and what they do. And so it started out in 2016 as their development director, helped with all their fundraising and their event planning. And then about a year and a half after I’d been there, the executive director went to our headquarters in Washington, DC. And so that position opened up, and then I moved into the executive director role.

Dennis (05:22)
Wow, that’s quite a journey. It’s unfortunate what it takes to bring us to where we ultimately end up a lot of the time. Like you, both my wife and I, when we went through our own personal issues with cancer, were not really familiar with Gilda’s Club. And then, frankly, my mother passed away just three and a half years ago now. And even though I was familiar at that time with Gilda’s Club, I wasn’t familiar enough to know what to do with that knowledge. Now, obviously, things have changed, partly because of what I’ve gone through personally and at the urging of some of the folks at Gilda’s Club who brought me on. And I’m glad that they did. But since we’re talking about Gilda’s Club and you and I both had little knowledge of it to begin with, so I assume a lot of the audience that are listening or watching are unfamiliar with Gilda’s Club at all. So can you give us a little history lesson?

Joy (06:29)
Sure. Yeah. I think unfortunately sometimes we say we’re the best kept secret, which we don’t want to be, but I hear that a lot when I’m out in the community. So many people say, I know it has something to do with cancer, but I don’t know exactly what you do. And so Gilda’s Club was started in memory of Gilda Radner, as you mentioned. It was started by Gene Wilder, her husband, and her psychotherapist Joanna Bull. And really it came from, she seeked out support at the Wellness Community, which was very similar to what we do at Gilda’s Club with the exception, they didn’t talk about death or dying, even though that’s a very unfortunately realistic part of cancer and they didn’t have kids programming. And so her wish was that, she said, I can afford the very best care and pay for the best of the best. But she said, what benefited me the most was the free services that I got at the Wellness Community. So her wish was to have that started in her honor and to be available across the entire United States. At that time, it was just in LA. And she wanted to make sure that it was always free and it was for the entire family.

Joy (07:31)
And so I think that’s one of the misconceptions. A lot of people think it’s just for females. A lot of people think it’s just for breast cancer, but it’s really for both the person with the diagnosis, their friends, families, neighbors, coworkers, anybody that’s impacted by that diagnosis. And we help people from the age of two all the way up to later in life. And so, as we know, cancer doesn’t discriminate. It does impact a lot of different people. And so we treat them from what we call previvor, so even helping people understand their risk factors. So we start out from that. We help them from diagnosis, through their treatment, through survivorship and then also through end of life and bereavement as well.

Dennis (08:17)
And that’s something you just hit on that I wanted to clarify too. You had originally mentioned that Gilda’s Club is available to the patients and their families or friends, but also to the survivors, who need some help kind of, I guess, getting back into the flow of things once they’ve been through that journey. You also mentioned the Wellness Community that Gilda Radner had reached out to. And I know that the Wellness Community at one point merged with Gilda’s Club to form the Cancer Support Community. So what’s the distinction, I guess, between the Gilda’s Club and the Cancer Support Community affiliates?

Joy (09:05)
Sure. So yeah, we’re one, I guess organization, you would say. So at the time of the merger, when that happened, all the Wellness communities became Cancer Support Community and the Gilda’s Club had the opportunity to either remain Gilda’s Club or they could become a cancer support community. And that was before my time. But from what I’m told is we had actually looked into switching to be a cancer support community and got some pushback from the community because they were so familiar and passionate about Gilda’s story and her legacy. So we remained a Gilda’s Club. So we’re all independent, 501 C3 so everything has local control. All the money we raise stays here locally, but we have that national affiliate that helps us. We can network with all. There’s 47 affiliates with over 175 locations across the US and Canada. And so it allows us to network to find out what’s working, if there’s something that we’re like, “Hey, we’re trying to reach this population. What have you done that’s been successful?” And so it’s really a nice tool to have that gives us some really good feedback. They also, our headquarters, we have a lot of people don’t know we have a research and training institute, so they’re the ones that do all of the medical review and the research on all of our programs that we offer as well as they have a policy institute too. So they’re in Washington DC advocating for cancer patients and their families and the issues that are important to them.

Dennis (10:28)
Now you mentioned the 47 different locations. Are those Gilda’s Club specific or would those include the Cancer Support Community as well?

Joy (10:41)
That would include the Cancer Support Community. I don’t know the exact amount of which ones are Gilda’s. I would say maybe 40% Gilda’s Club, 60% Cancer Support Community. It’s pretty evenly split. We’ve even had some new organization or new affiliates that have opened that have become a Gilda’s Club. So yeah, that’s everything.

Dennis (11:02)
And you mentioned that each of the locations are independent of each other with kind of a national umbrella. Are there distinctions between Gilda’s Club and those that call themselves the Cancer Support Community with respect to what they do and or how they do it? Or is it pretty much a similar program?

Joy (11:28)
Pretty much a similar program. So part of being an affiliate of the Cancer Support Community, we have certain guidelines and so we all are required to have the same five core components of our program. So they might differ a little bit in the feel of the clubhouse. For example, like Cancer Support Communities, they don’t call them clubhouses. They don’t call them members. They call them participants. They call them satellite locations. So there’s some different terminology, but in terms of the core program offerings, it’s the same.

Dennis (11:56)
And what are those core program offerings that you referenced?

Joy (12:00)
So we have support groups. That’s probably what we’re most known for, but we do so much more. So we have support groups for the person with the diagnosis, the friends and family, children. We also offer three cancer specific support groups. So we have one for breast cancer, gynecological cancers, and then we just added a prostate cancer group. And so those are more we call networking groups that they can talk a little bit more about their specific cancer type. And then we also have a bereavement grief group as well. So that’s a big part of what we do. But then we also offer educational programs. So I mentioned that research and training institute. So we have all the material. So it’s not ever suggesting a treatment option for our members, it’s giving them all the information that they have that they can then be educated to make the decision and advocate for themselves and do what’s best for them and their family. And it’s also a resource for community on knowing risk factors, screenings, things that you can do to reduce your risk of cancer, as well as on various topics of cancer and managing the cost of care. So there’s a wide variety of topics that we do. And then we do healthy lifestyle activities. So we offer yoga. Yoga, it’s called Yoga for Cancer. And then we have chair yoga if there’s mobility issues and then we also do meditation as well, so helping them manage the stress from diagnosis. There was a recent study that was done that said cancer patients have an 85% higher risk of suicide than someone without cancer and so helping them manage that stress and it also helps them manage some of the side effects and symptoms, as well. And then we do social activities. So maybe not always talking about cancer, but just being with other people that are in the room that, you know, they know what you’re going through and you don’t even have to say anything. And just a time for people to gather and then resources and referrals. So if we can’t provide something for them, we connect them with somebody in the community across the country that can.

Dennis (14:03)
Right, and I’m probably going to go back and talk about each of those core categories in a little bit more detail. But before I do that, I wanted to talk a little bit about the Quad City Clubs in general and the locations and what’s new and exciting going on with reference to that.

Joy (14:26)
Yeah, it’s been a busy few years. So we started a capital campaign back the end of 2020 and then wonderful COVID hit and kind of slowed things down a little bit. But really in that capital campaign, what our goal was, we had made the decision to close our clubhouse on River Drive. Which was our home for 20 almost, well we’ve been there 24 years. And decided to move into the hospital locations. Which is probably something that I think if you ask the founders and even me coming in. It wasn’t anything that was ever on our radar because one of the beauties of our programs was having that retreat away from the hospitals where they could come. It was in a home, but it had that warm home-like environment. And so really our decision came from we recognized that we weren’t meeting the needs of the community, that we had so many cancer patients that we weren’t reaching, and so we wanted to find a way that we could be more accessible to them. When you’re diagnosed with cancer, you have so many tests and appointments and screenings and treatment and all of that that can be so overwhelming. And so coming to Gilda’s Club was just one more thing that they had to check off their list. And as you and I both said, we had heard of Gilda’s Club and so many people just weren’t taking that time then to step in through our doors and really find out what we’re about. And so we opened our location in Moline. The other thing we wanted to do is be available on both sides of the river because we did hear that just being in Davenport, there were people on the Illinois side that it was a struggle for them to get over. Even when there’s not bridge construction going on, that bridge can be a barrier.

Dennis (16:02)
Right? Let me just interrupt for a second, Joy, because we have a number of people who will be listening in and watching from outside of the Quad Cities area. So just to clarify, Moline is in Illinois, Davenport and River Drive that you referenced is in Iowa. The River Drive location, which is where Gilda’s Club used to be, was in a home and on River Drive in Davenport, Iowa. And now take it from there.

Joy (16:36)
Yeah, so we have a location. We’re in both hospital systems. So for those of you not familiar, there’s two different hospitals here Trinity, Unity Point, Trinity, and then Genesis Medical Center. And so the cancer center at Trinity is in Moline. So we have a clubhouse that we opened last February there that’s just down the hall from their cancer center. And then in September of this year, we opened our location in Davenport at Genesis West, and we are directly above their cancer center there. And so we don’t obviously haven’t been open a lot at Genesis, but the feedback that we’ve gotten from being at Trinity was, we had people up, two to three people walking through our doors every day, cancer patients and their families that probably never would have walked through our doors if we were at our old location. And so it’s proven to be very effective in making us more accessible.

Dennis (17:26)
And speaking of being more effective, I want to circle back and go over those core issues again. You mentioned the workshops, the support groups, the healthy lifestyle, activities, social events and resources. So starting with the support groups, let’s break that down. What are the support groups that are available and what are they designed to accomplish?

Joy (17:50)
Sure. So you’re going to test me to see if I can remember, we were naming these not too long ago. But there’s Connecting Through Cancer, which is the support group for the person with any type of cancer. So some people might think, well, I’m going through breast cancer and what is somebody that maybe is going through prostate cancer or colon cancer? What are they going to know? But it’s just connecting people, just sharing your stories, knowing that what you’re going through is completely normal. And they’re at various stages of their cancer diagnosis. So there could be somebody brand new that was just diagnosed and somebody that maybe is two years out from their treatment and so they can connect and be that resource to each other and let them know that it’s a safe place. So maybe there’s things that they are internalizing because they don’t want to burden their caregiver or they’re scared to tell their caregivers some of the things that they’re feeling. And so it’s a place where they can just go and connect and feel okay with talking about whatever they need to talk about. And then so what would happen on like a Tuesday night at Genesis or a Wednesday night at Trinity?All the family can come together and so the person with the diagnosis is in their room. And then we have a friends and family group, which is for not necessarily just friends and families. Like I said, it could be a neighbor or coworker, anybody that is that support person for them. And again, they probably have things that they’re going through. You know, when I was going, when my husband was going through his diagnosis, there were things that even though we had great communication, I didn’t feel like I could say to him and I felt guilty for feeling the things that I was feeling. And so for them, especially, actually there was a study that caregivers actually have a higher rate of stress than the cancer patient and so it’s super important for that caregiver to make sure they’re getting the support that they need as well. And then we have our Noogieland, which is for the young kids. So kind of supervised play, but we have a licensed mental health professional that’s there for them, as well. And so they’ll do age appropriate support if needed as well. And we do grief busters for kids that have lost somebody to cancer as well. That program is open to children that are diagnosed with cancer as well as if they have, usually it’s a grandparent or a parent or maybe a sibling. I would say most of the kids that we serve are the person they know, someone that we don’t serve, a lot of kids which we’d love to expand that and have that available. And then the grief group obviously is for anyone that has lost somebody to cancer.

Dennis (20:19)
I’m going to continue to test you and I want to talk about the workshops and the other educational opportunities. You referenced it before, but specifically, what are those about and how are they made available to the members of Gilda’s Club?

Joy (20:36)
So those are something we hold in our clubhouse and that’s the program that, all of our other programs you have to be impacted by cancer to participate but the educational piece can be, some of them are open to the general public as well because we want them to be educated as well. So there’s a various topics, most of what we do, they’re called Frankly Speaking about Cancer. And so they could be on topics of managing the cost of care, managing symptoms and side effects, helping people understand clinical trials. There are so many misconceptions about clinical trials that there’s a placebo and various things and so helping them debunk some of those myths. There are about certain cancer types, knowing about metastatic cancer or HER2-positive and understanding risk factors. Talking about nutritional components of how to either reduce your cancer risk or maybe you have a family history and you’re trying to figure out how you can reduce that risk for yourself. And then also how if you are a survivor, what are some healthy tips that you can have? So there’s a range of topics and what we do for those is we bring in somebody that’s an expert in that area. So we might bring in a dietitian, we’ll bring in an oncologist and a radiology oncologist. So whoever is the best person to speak on that is who would present for us.

Dennis (22:02)
Now, similarly, the other core that I kind of put the two together is the resources that Gilda’s Club makes available to members and other folks. But separate and apart from that, you also mentioned the things that I think are a little bit more fun. When we’re talking about counseling and support groups and we’re talking about research and education, it’s obviously really important in a lot of different ways but the ones that I think are more fun are the Social Connections and the Healthy Lifestyle Programs. So talk a little bit about those two.

Joy (22:50)
Yeah, so the social events are just a variety. Obviously we haven’t done a lot of that with COVID so we’re just slowly bringing those back. But we have a coffee and canines which is just coming to our clubhouse, grabbing a cup of coffee, we bring in the therapy dogs and just a time again just to talk about whatever is on your mind. And I should add in support groups, a lot of people ask me isn’t your place of work kind of a depressing place to work? It’s not really, I mean, yes, there are sad moments, I’m not going to lie and say that there aren’t, but there’s a lot of laughter in those support groups too. But the social aspect is really just like I said, they may not even talk about cancer, but there’s just something about knowing that the person sitting across from you at the table has gone through or is going through what you are and they get it without you having to even say anything. We’ll do that. We’ll do potlucks. We used to grill out at our old location. So we’ll have to think of something fun that we can do instead of that. We have a big Easter egg hunt for the kids. We just had our Noogiefest Halloween celebration last weekend for the kids. And then we do different Christmas, bring Santa to the clubhouse. So just a variety of things we’re actually just kind of throwing around for next year. We want to try to give maybe businesses opportunities that they can come in and serve a meal to cancer patients and their families and just a way for them to connect and really see the difference that their support makes in the community. So social events can be a wide variety of things. And then the Healthy Lifestyle is really yoga, like I said, both chair yoga, mat yoga, and our instructors are certified in both of those. So they know they’ll help you adjust your post. A lot of people are intimidated. They’re like, I’ve never done yoga before. All levels can come in, and they help them with their balance. They can adjust the moves if something is too hard. So those are great programs, and again, not just reducing stress, but it helps, like with Lymphedema, helps them. Some of the moves that they do will help them train the Lymphatic system and really get your immune system to do what it was designed to do to help combat that. And then meditation, just taking a moment, teaching them breathing techniques that maybe they’re having anxiety before they go in for a scan or before they go in for a test. Just things that they can do that help them not just in their daily life, but during treatment, too. We’d love to expand that, too. Usually our Healthy Lifestyle activities are one of our best attended programs. And so there are other things like Tai Chi, if we could find an instructor for that, that we could do to expand and help even more with that area.

Dennis (25:27)
I know there’s no such thing in life as a typical week, and certainly not at Gilda’s Club, but let’s say excluding the administrative and the board meetings and things like that, and excluding the fundraising efforts, for instance, what does this week or a typical week schedule look like when you add all those different components in?

Joy (25:53)
Yes. Well, every day of the week we have something going on in the clubhouse. Sometimes I would say probably between one and two activities every week going on. We average about 40 to 50 a month on both sides of the river. 40 total. 40 to 50 total. So there could be support groups going on. We have support groups weekly in both locations. So that’s one thing that every week they can find that support. Educational workshops are usually at least once a month, sometimes every other month or every other week. We always have yoga or healthy lifestyle activities every week. So there’s some days where it’s a little bit quieter because some of the activities are at night. So it might just be people walking in when they’re downstairs with treatment that they’ll walk in. And we always make sure we have a licensed mental health professional on staff at both locations. So if somebody just walks in, they can get that help that they need as well. So it just kind of varies. But yeah, there’s always something going on. And even if there’s nothing going on, people can just come in. Our new clubhouse, they have what we call the community room that really looks like you’re walking into somebody’s living room, that it’s just a place for them to come and relax and not even have to talk to anybody if they don’t want to.

Dennis (27:09)
Right, now I warned you before we got started. I was going to ask you for some specific examples because I think anybody listening in right now in hearing about the programs, it’s one thing to hear about them. I think everyone would agree that sounds wonderful, but to see the practical application of these different resources in action. You’ve been at it for many years now. Can you give us some specific examples of how you’ve seen these programs help members and families?

Joy (27:45)
Yeah, there’s a couple that come to mind when you ask me that. I think just in general, you see somebody come in for that first time and there’s just such a look of anxiety and worry and to see them after coming to a couple of programs and just kind of see the little bit of that light back in their life. People always say walking through that red door was the hardest thing that I ever had to do and I wish I would have found you sooner. We hear that a lot. So I think talking to somebody that maybe is going through a cancer diagnosis and is like, I don’t know if I need that. I can tell you, if you asked a member, all of them would say, I thought that too, and I’m so glad I did. So I just encouraged them to come try a few things. Not everything is going to be for them, but a couple of member stories that really stick out to me. There was a member who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and that’s usually a pretty tough diagnosis. It’s terminal and he was given just weeks to live. And I think, I don’t remember exactly, but I want to say he lived 4 years. He just passed away in this last year and his story was amazing. And really the benefit of Gilda’s Club to him was he was his biggest advocate. He would have never survived that long had he not pushed his doctors. And so he got that strength coming to support groups, talking to other patients, being educated. He would ask us about something, if we didn’t know, we’d try to connect him, maybe with somebody at one of our other affiliates we could reach out to. And one of my favorite stories of him is at our first fundraiser, it was pouring down rain, it was freezing cold. We usually had 400 runners at that event, and there was maybe 100 that year. And I was standing at one of the intersections as a volunteer, and he came across with his hands in the air, and he said, “I’m alive. I’m alive. They told me I wouldn’t be alive.” And I thought, here he is braving this cold, and this means so much to him. And just seeing that hope that you give to people when people are going to tell you there is no hope. And so just the beauty of seeing that transformation. We had another member that actually came to one of our board meetings and spoke a few years back, and she talked a lot about, she had ovarian cancer, and was diagnosed I think it was stage three when she was diagnosed and had three or four reoccurrences. She actually just passed away just last week or the week before. But her story, too, she said she went through her first diagnosis without Gilda’s Club. She got done, she returned, tried to go back to work. She was done with her treatment. And she said, everybody thought that I was good, that my life was back to normal. And she’s like, I was struggling because I didn’t feel like the same person that I was before. And so her trying to navigate what life looks like after cancer and then us being there for her when she went through her second or her third and her fourth reoccurrence. And she talked a lot about just the difference in the first time that she went through without Gilda’s Club versus the other times that she went through and just how much hope that she had. And one of the things, she did an interview for us, and she said, it’s just a place you can go and just be yourself. She said, you know, I can laugh about cancer. You joke with your family members about cancer, they don’t think it’s funny. You joke with other cancer patients, they get it. They get it. And so just those two stories, people that just felt like there was no hope and that was just, how they had to accept life the way it was and just seeing how much of an impact it has.

Dennis (31:22)
Right. And I know that’s just the tip of the iceberg, and it wasn’t fair for me to last minute ask you to think of a couple of examples, but you did a good job.

Joy (31:31)
Thank you.

Dennis (31:32)
Now, all those programs, by the way, are at no cost to members. Correct?

Joy (31:37)

Dennis (31:37)
So let’s talk about where the money comes from to pay for the locations and pay for the programs and the staff and everything else.

Joy (31:48)
Yeah, so it’s all through individual donations, corporations, grant funding. So, yeah, we don’t ever charge for anything that we do, so it all has to come through those things. Fundraising events. We’re more fundraiser driven than what I would like to be, but, yeah, it’s really tapping into the community, and without the community’s support, I should say our move to the hospitals, both hospitals have been extremely generous, and that was one of the reasons. It was mostly based on how we could reach more people. But there was a financial aspect, too, and both hospitals helped contribute to a large portion of the construction cost to custom build it for us. But they’re also giving us that space for the next ten years at a dollar a year. And so all that money, our old historical home, took a lot of maintenance, and so that money that went into maintenance can now go into that. So the hospitals and the community.

Dennis (32:44)
Well let’s talk about some of the specific fundraising efforts outside of corporate sponsorship and the grant writing. And I know you participate a lot in both of those things, but there’s some recurring events that you see annually, at least with the local Quad Cities chapter. The Red Door Ride was last month, the Diamonds and Divas was a couple of weeks ago. I know there’s the Blessing Tree Lighting, the Grow a Mo, Live from the QC, It’s Saturday Night, which last year we had Tim Meadows up here and he’s a Saturday Night Live alum, just like Gilda Radner, Bags and Brew, etc. You mentioned, I think the Run for Hope. I assume that’s what you were talking about with the runners. Yeah. Golf for Gildas, etc. Am I missing some? I probably am.

Joy (33:42)
No, you just hit it out of the ballpark with that.

Dennis (33:45)
All right. Those are recurring events and I know that the staff, the members, the board and volunteers all have to kind of pull their resources to make these things come off, to raise money rather than spend money, which, having done a lot of charitable fundraisers over the years, I know sometimes that’s a difficult thing to do. But which of the programs or which of the fundraisers is the most successful for Gilda’s Club?

Joy (34:21)
Probably our Live from the QC, although Diamonds and Divas is a really close second. But we changed the format a little bit from Live From the QC a few years ago. So it used to be called Intimate Conversations and we’d bring in talent. We had Donnie Wahlberg, we had the Duchess of York, we had oh, gosh, I’m going to forget who all we had. Jamie Lee Curtis, I think was there one year. So just a variety of people. Cesar Millan and the cost of the talent got to be so high. And so it wasn’t productive for us to do it any longer, but so we shifted two years ago, I think it was, to the Live from the QC. And really, we did that intentionally because we wanted to pay tribute to Gilda Radner. We’re finding, as these younger generations are coming up, they don’t know who Gilda Radner is, and so we want to make sure we’re honoring her legacy. And it was a way for us to make our fundraising events. We talked about creating awareness. A lot of people in the community don’t know what we’re about, and so we wanted to bring it back to the mission. And so we have moments now at all of our fundraising events where we’ll share a member story either directly from them or maybe it’s a video. And so just making sure. In Diamonds and Divas, we have a comedian that comes in, so it brought that component into that as well. And then a lot of them are the Run for Hope and the Red Door Ride are about honoring people that we know in our lives that have been impacted. Blessing Tree is coming up. That’s a great way you can honor somebody, not just that has passed away or that, you know, that went through a cancer diagnosis. It can be anybody, and it can be for the person that maybe was the diagnosed, and he or she wants to thank the person that was there that helped them through it. So we try to always bring it back to the mission. I think that’s the biggest thing with our fundraising events. That it’s not just about raising money, it’s about raising awareness.

Dennis (36:11)
And with the other affiliates across the country, is it true that they all do whatever they want to do as far as fundraising, not every affiliate is doing the same things that they’re doing in the Quad Cities, for instance.

Joy (36:25)
Correct? Yes. And I should mention, too, one thing we haven’t talked about is we are one of the smallest communities to have a Gilda’s Club. So those other affiliates that we talk about that have it, they’re in really large metropolitan areas. So for them to do a fundraising event, that brings in $100,000 to $200,000 in one event, I’m like, “Can I just have one of those, please?” So they’re in really large areas, and so us being in a smaller area, smaller city, definitely has an impact on our fundraising ability, too. But, yeah, I would say there’s a lot of them that do a run that’s kind of a common one that people do. And then usually everybody has some type of a gala. There are other people that do comedians, that bring in comedians. So there’s a few similarities. But, yeah, everybody can do whatever is best for their market.

Dennis (37:14)
Well, and I’m sure that no matter where people are listening or watching from, that there is an affiliate nearby, and one thing that is consistent between them all is that you’re doing good for people who can use the help. And they’re fun. I know that the ones that I’ve participated in are a lot of fun. So I’d encourage you, if you’re listening in, to make sure that you reach out wherever you’re at and see if you can participate in some fashion, whether it’s financially or as a volunteer. And we’re going to talk about that a little bit as well. So in addition to those types of fundraisers, there are other means. You mentioned the grants, which we don’t need to get into right now. I think most people know what we’re talking about. Corporate sponsorships, Peer-To-Peer fundraisers and donations from individuals, tribute gifts, legacy giving. And I wanted to talk a little bit about the Red Door Society. Can you tell us what that is and what you’re looking for from people who participate at that level?

Joy (38:27)
Sure. So Red Door Society is really a way for us to think of long term sustainability. So how can we make sure that we’re here in this community for another 25 or more years? And so the Red Door Society is really those people that can commit to $1,000 or more a year. They could make a one time gift. They could make that maybe through Birdies where they get the matching gift. Or they could do a monthly giving, quarterly giving, however they want it to do. Some people do it and they can do it through their donor advised funds. There’s a lot of opportunity, but it’s that $1,000 a year commitment, and we’d like them to commit to three years so that we can plan knowing that we have that. So that’s really how we look at just that long term, consistent sustainability that we know is going to be there. Because you don’t know, things change from year to year with individual donations. So that kind of fluctuates.

Dennis (39:24)
And you referenced birdies. You mean Birdies For Charity, where you can make a donation through Birdies For Charity and they will match up to 5%. Correct?

Joy (39:34)
Yes, correct.

Dennis (39:36)
Yeah. That’s a big fundraiser for us, for sure. And the thing that I also wanted to bring up, and I think you touched on it a little bit, are the legacy gifts and the tribute gifts. Can you talk about those a little bit?

Joy (39:50)
Yeah, so I think with those, they’re so important. Again, keeping in mind that the money stays here locally. So there’s a lot of great cancer organizations, but not all the money stays locally. So when you give to Gilda’s Club, whether it’s a legacy gift or memorial, that money stays here to help people in our community that are impacted. And so we do see that a lot from members that pass away their memorials might come to us, or people make a donation in honor of them. Sometimes somebody that went through the diagnosis, they might maybe do a Facebook fundraiser on the anniversary of their diagnosis to help other people get the support that they found so helpful. So there’s a lot of different things that people can do, but I think the key is remembering that it stays here locally.

Dennis (40:41)
And it’s not just limited to the efforts of Gilda’s Club. In other words, the Peer to Peer fundraisers, folks out in the community can and do hold their own fundraisers to give back to Gilda’s Club. Correct?

Joy (40:58)
Yeah. And that’s something that is so helpful to us because we are a really small staff. We have one development person that’s responsible for grant writing and fundraising and event planning and meeting with donors. So she’s spread really thin. And all of our staff, we try to make the best use of the staff that we have. And so those third party fundraisers are great because, again, they help us raise awareness, and they’re really simple. It could be something as simple as a lemonade stand that a kid does, or it could be something more extravagant. Now, our Red Door Ride for many years was a third party event that somebody in the community put on for us that raised almost $15,000. But no third party event is too small. Those $100 all add up. And the $1000 ones, I mean, every little bit helps us for sure.

Dennis (41:48)
Or if you’re getting married, ask people to make a donation in your name instead of a gift. Right? As a wedding gift.

Joy (41:56)
Or we didn’t talk about the one fundraiser, the Grow your Mo that’s coming up.

Dennis (42:00)
That’s right.

Joy (42:02)
I think you should grow a mustache for Gilda’s and see what people will do.

Dennis (42:05)
Yeah, I think that would look unfortunately, when I grow a mustache, it looks like a 70’s porn star or something. It’s not a good look on me.

Joy (42:16)
But people might pay money to see that.

Dennis (42:18)
They probably would, yes. And then pay money to see me shaving off. Enough is enough. Anyway, last thing I wanted to talk about, kind of hitting on the things that you just referenced is how important volunteerism is at Gilda’s. They’re needed in a variety of ways that, you know, including running the front desk and helping with programming, administrative support, the fundraising events, etc. How can somebody reach out and offer to help? What would you like them to do if they’re sitting across the table from you?

Joy (42:58)
Yeah, I mean, really use your talents, whatever is of interest to you. So, yeah, as you mentioned, there’s so many opportunities with our two new locations, we probably need volunteers even more so than ever. So we do have volunteers. I think we still have a few openings for some of the reception desk, and that’s simply just answering phones for us, welcoming people when they come in. Sometimes we’ll have them, when they’re doing that, we’ll have them do different projects if we have a mailing going out, that type of thing, getting our calendars ready. So there’s that type of work. There can be administrative work where they’re helping with mailings, maybe they’re helping, gosh, I don’t even know, with other projects that we have that if that’s a strength of theirs. One of the things I mentioned, we have the Noogieland for the kids every week, volunteers for that. So a lot of that is just supervised play. So if you love interacting with kids, you can come into our clubhouse and help with the kids that are impacted by cancer. That’s the only volunteering opportunity we have that does require a background check, which we cover the cost of that. But if you love fundraising and you love going to events and you love the social aspect of things, serving on one of our event committees and helping us with that. Gosh, there’s so many others. But the main thing, they can go on our website and click on the tab about volunteering. And there’s a short little, I don’t want to call it an application because it’s really just for us to gain interest, for you to see what opportunities there are on there and what might be of interest. And then Kelly Craft, she’s one of our program managers, she would follow up with them after they submit that and we’ll meet with them and give them a tour and see how they can help.

Dennis (44:39)
And what is that website, Joy?

Joy (44:41)
That is Gildasclubqc.org.

Dennis (44:45)
And we’ll make sure for those of you who watch the video version, that we have that posted up on the video version as well. What’s the most pressing issue right now on the horizon for Gilda’s Club, would you say?

Joy (44:59)
I would say just continue fundraising. I mean, I know that probably is what every nonprofit leader would say, but as you mentioned, we don’t charge for our services, and so that is ongoing. We have about half a million dollar budget each year that we need to raise funds for. And so coming up, if they want something, the most immediate way in this they can help from across wherever they are is the Blessing Tree that we mentioned. There is a tab on our website there where they can find that they can make a donation and honor somebody. And that’s really neat because it’s every light, bow and ornament that’s on that tree is in memory or in honor, or celebration of somebody, and it’s visible from both sides of the river. So that’s kind of a fun way to get involved immediately. But I would say volunteerism and just awareness are two of the other things aside from the fundraising need.

Dennis (45:50)
Absolutely. And to that end, I want to make sure that everybody who has an interest, please reach out. Also share this podcast with your friends and family so that they become aware of the resources available through Gilda’s Club, which is such an incredible opportunity for those people who are going through this unfortunate journey. It makes things much easier for the friends, the family, and for the patients themselves. So, Joy, thank you so much for being here. Any last words of wisdom?

Joy (46:25)
I don’t think so. Just don’t be afraid to reach out. Come check us out and see what we’re all about, and hopefully you find something that benefits you. And thanks, Dennis, so much for helping us get our story out.

Dennis (46:37)
It’s always my pleasure. I want to thank Joy again. As I said, be sure to learn more about Gilda’s Club and how you can contribute time, money or effort to help out by going to Gildasclubqc.org. I want to thank you all for joining us again today, and be sure to subscribe to, rate and review Uncommon Convos on your favorite podcast platform and visit Uncommonconvos.com to watch the video version of this and every episode. Also, be sure to check out our other podcast, Legal Squeaks, to get the latest information on legal and consumer news that may impact your life. Thanks again to our sponsor, VanDerGinst Law. If you need help with an injury claim anywhere in the country, reach out at vlaw.com. Check us out again for another Uncommon Convo next time. In the meantime, have a great day, stay safe and I love you all.

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