Gilda’s Club: Celebrating 20 Years. A Conversation with CEO, Lily Safani
How long have you been with Gilda’s Club (GC) and why did you choose to work there?
I have been with Gilda’s Club for eight years. Prior to joining Gilda’s Club, I spent several years in healthcare and became particularly interested in the disparities in healthcare for the underserved and uninsured populations of NYC.
When the opportunity to work at Gilda’s Club presented itself, I found it paralleled my own beliefs on the importance of education and support for all people living with cancer and their families. I jumped at the chance to help serve a population that could benefit from Gilda’s Club’s mission.
What is the most important thing you would want someone to know about GC that perhaps they don’t know?
People don’t realize how welcoming our community is to individuals of all ages living with cancer. When they walk into our Clubhouse, they can immediately see what a special place it is – unlike the hospitals and doctors’ offices they have visited. It is really like visiting someone’s beautiful home. But most important, they probably realize they should have contacted us earlier. Sometimes taking the first step to reach out to us is the hardest one. But once they do, they realize they have made the right choice.
2015 marks the 20th Anniversary of GC. What would you say are some of the more memorable milestones?
- Implementing and expanding our offsite program, Gilda Comes to You, so we can reach more New Yorkers living with cancer around NYC, especially in underserved neighborhoods. We are currently at: Kings County Hospital for Cancer Care in Brooklyn; Montefiore-Einstein Center for Cancer Care in the Bronx; The Mount Sinai Hospital Ruttenberg Treatment Center on the Upper East Side; and Queens Cancer Center in Jamaica, Queens.
- Expanding our youth program to include support groups for children and teens, as well as launching Camp Sparkle for kids 5-12 years old.
- Growing our bilingual Spanish/English program to provide support for the Latino population. We now have weekly and monthly programs to support this group.
- Launching our Teen Essay Contest in 2010. This led to the publication of our first E-book which is a compilation of essays from the contest. To date, we have had more than 330 submissions.
What are some things that GC is doing this year to celebrate?
This year is our milestone year and our 20th Anniversary Leadership Campaign has been launched to help us reach our goal to expand our Gilda Comes To You program to make it more accessible to more New Yorkers throughout the city.
Gilda’s Club opened its Red Door on June 9, 1995. We had a big birthday party celebration at the Clubhouse in June and we will be closing the year with a big celebration at our 20th Anniversary Benefit Gala in November.
What goals do you have for GC in the near future and how important is the Leadership Campaign to achieving those goals?
As we move forward, we want to ensure our free cancer support program is accessible to more men, women, teens and children who are diagnosed with cancer and their loved ones – not just at our Clubhouse in the West Village, not just at the hospitals where they receive treatment, but where they live, work, or go to school – Gilda Will Come To You.
The need for our services is growing, not diminishing. The Institute of Medicine has projected a 45% increase in cancer incidence by the year 2030. Cancer is part of our reality today and tomorrow. That is why, more than ever, our Leadership Campaign is needed to help us realize our goals for the next 20 years.
We have always greatly appreciated our donors because without them, we would not still be here. Our members would not be able to get the support they both need and want – the support many of them would say is a “lifeline.”
95% of our funding comes from individuals, private foundations, and corporations who believe in the work we do and we are so grateful for their support.