Abby is 4 years old. She was at a day camp, struggling to get into her jacket, and having trouble. The camp leader, in an effort to divert her coat-focus, asked Abby to tell her something about herself. Before Abby could comment, the little girl next to her announced, "I can tell you something about Abby. Her sister just died!"

Indeed, Abby's sister had died of cancer. And most of Abby's young life had been spent in hospitals, treatment centres, and listening to her grief-stricken parents. It doesn't take much to see ahead to what Abby's life might hold... a lifetime of unspoken, unrecognized grief, aloneness, and who knows what else.

That's why Gilda's Club, located at 10 Quarry Ridge Rd, is so important. For anybody whose life is touched by cancer in any way, Gilda's is a touchstone.

Gilda's Executive Director Deborah Loosemore says in the five years since the facility opened, Gilda's has seen growth to 100 people a month seeking information and program support from Gilda's. Whether they're newly diagnosed with cancer and seeking treatment information, OR signing up for an art class, OR bringing in children to Noogieland for play (therapy), OR finished treatment and wanting to join a support group, OR a spouse or family member of someone living with cancer... well, you get the idea...Gilda's is there for the whole family.

And with 1200 new folks a year, Deborah says the big challenges for Gilda's are two fold: (1) making sure everyone receives top notch connection and care and (2) raising the money necessary to keep the 10,000 square foot building totally operational.

The annual budget right now is $750,000 a year but to do the job Gilda's really wants to do, they need to raise about $250,000 more. Every year. It's a lean support staff in the administration area, and program staff are highly trained and equally motivated.

Deborah says with about 400 charities in Barrie all seeking community funds, the challenge in raising money is huge.

On top of raising money, Gilda's maintains communications with the medical community, the service sector for companies who come in touch with cancer patients, the care community like CCAC. Service folks build connections with social service agencies like the Food Bank, home care, Ontario Works, health insurance, agencies like Seasons Centre and Candlelighters... when cancer strikes, the impact on the family includes work, financial, educational, social.

Deborah pays homage to the Gilda's board of directors, a very future-oriented group of people. And because Gilda's serves people not only from Barrie but within a 90 minute drive around Barrie, the need to draw donations from Newmarket to Huntsville, to Midland, Collingwood and Peterborough means needs for far reaching donor programs.

When Gilda's red door opened in 2010, it was the second Gilda's in Canada. The folks who worked eternally for this to happen had predicted Gilda's would serve about 500 people a year.

"We're so far over that, at more than 1200 people a year, that our whole business model has to grow. The organization is undergoing a strategic plan right now, looking at marketing, program initiatives, additional efforts to fill the coffers every year.

"We have lots of fundraisers which help a lot," says Deborah, noting company-generated activities as well as Gilda's annual Lakeside Party. Hair salons across the region are participating in Canada Cuts for Gilda's on Sept 21 and 27. Those booking hair appointments pay $30 and receive their cut and a $50 bag of goodies. (www.canadacutsfor.ca) "But the core of our financial existence is from normal people who go to www.canadahelps.org, select Gildasclubsimcoemuskoka.org as their charitable recipient, and click on a certain amount of money to come to us every month. Whether it's $25 a month or $2500 a month, it's that core funding that makes the true difference to us," she says.

She says people remember Gilda's in their wills; many make Gilda's their beneficiary for their RRSP's or their Tax Free Savings Accounts. It all helps.

And why does it matter? "Our health care system gives your body excellent care," says Deborah. "But there's no emotional or informational support.

"Research shows the value of support programs: people who get emotional support are more likely to have successful outcomes." She points to Statistics Canada figures that show lower rates of depression and suicide among cancer sufferers if there's connection to emotional and psychological support.

"It will be a rare person in Ontatrio who lives their lives without cancer entering it in some way," says Deborah. www.gildasclubbarrie.org, facebook: www.facebook.com/gildasclub, shopbarrie: www.shopbarrie.com/gildasclub

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