Construction begins at Gilda’s Club

Center will provide support for cancer victims, families

You can’t blame Davney Weber if she’s goes to sleep at night humming the words to the song "If I Had a Million Dollars" by the Barenaked Ladies.
After all, that’s precisely the amount Weber needs to open the Gilda’s Club Southeastern Wisconsin cancer support center.
Weber is executive director of the cancer support club, which is being built at 4050 N. Oakland Ave., just north of Capitol Drive, in Shorewood.
"If I had a million dollars, I could sleep well at night," Weber said.
Weber, who was hired to oversee the project in April 2000, has raised $1.5 million in donations, pledges and commitments for the local Gilda’s Club thus far.
That’s enough to begin the process of renovating the former Shorewood Masonic Temple, which was constructed in 1931.
Demolition and excavation of the interior of the 8,000-square-foot building has begun. SCS of Wisconsin, Menomonee Falls, and Signature Group, Milwaukee, are gutting the building.
The reconstruction project is being designed by Charlie Simonds of The Kubala Washatko Architects, Cedarburg. The contractor for the project is CMA of Milwaukee, a division of The Jansen Group, which will add 1,000 square feet to the site.
Weber expects the reconstruction of the building to continue through the winter and spring, with a targeted opening of mid-summer of 2003.
When open, Gilda’s Club will provide a free site for people with cancer and their families and friends to join with other people to build social and emotional support as a supplement to their medical care.
Gilda’s Club will provide support and networking groups, lectures, workshops and social events in a home-like setting.
"Gilda’s Club is for anyone touched by cancer. I mean, who hasn’t been touched by cancer?" Weber said.
The American Cancer Society estimates that 25,000 people living in Wisconsin will be diagnosed with cancer and 10,900 state residents will die from the disease this year.
"Participation by men, women and children with cancer and their families and friends at Gilda’s Club will not only improve the quality of their lives, but also the life of the general community," Weber said.
"Depression and isolation are common side effects for not only the cancer patient, but for the family. The children struggle at school, and the spouse is over-extended trying to take care of everything," she said. "Gilda’s Club offers a chance for the entire family and anyone touched by cancer to improve his or her quality of life, without any financial pressure, and if possible, continue or return to being a productive citizen."
The center will feature a living room, a kitchen, group rooms, a family conference room, an exercise room, an art room and workshop, a library and "Noogieland" – an area where children can play in a supervised setting.
The Shorewood project has come this far because Weber has secured an impressive range of corporate and individual philanthropy.
The Junior League of Milwaukee is the project’s founding sponsor and has donated $180,000 to help hire Weber, who had been operating a nonprofit consulting business, and to sponsor "Noogieland."
Gilda’s Club received a key boost from the Northwestern Mutual Foundation, which gave a $150,000 challenge grant last year.
The project also has received the support of the Milwaukee medical community.
Columbia-St. Mary’s Hospital and Aurora Health Care, both of Milwaukee, each have contributed $100,000 as sponsors. Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, Covenant HealthCare System and the Medical College of Wisconsin also are endorsing the project.
Further, a long roster of local physicians have signed on to serve on Gilda’s Club’s Medical Resource Council.
GE Medical, Waukesha, paid for the creation of Gilda’s Club’s Web site and will provide all of the appliances in the center.
However, individual people have been just as important to the progress of the project.
Philanthropist Jane Bradley Pettit and her foundation donated $250,000 to Gilda’s Club, and Jack Pelisek, former partner at the Michael, Best & Friedrich law firm in Milwaukee, served as the honorary co-chairman of the local project.
Perhaps not so ironically, cancer claimed the lives of both Pettit and Pelisek as the Gilda’s Club project began gaining momentum.
Others have fueled that momentum, such as Vicki Boxer Samson, a local philanthropist and community supporter who has donated time, resources and money to advance the cause.
Boxer Samson’s mother died of cancer three years ago, so the development of Gilda’s Club is a priority for her.
"I think it’s important for the community to have a place where, not only cancer patients, but their family and friends can come together in a positive and life-affirming place," Boxer Samson said. "It focuses on the quality of life for everyone during the disease.
"Gilda’s Club will provide, not only opportunities for patients to come together for support, but a place for children to express themselves or just be taken care of while a parent is meditating in a quiet room," Boxer Samson said. "This is a disease that crosses all economic and societal lines."
However, Weber needs $1 million more before she can turn the key and open the red door at Gilda’s Club Southeastern Wisconsin. The project also could use some in-kind donations, such as a gas fireplace, millwork, painting and shelving.
Weber’s knows her task to complete Gilda’s Club won’t be easy, given the context of so many other large local capital campaigns that are ongoing, including the Milwaukee Art Museum project, which continues to drain the community’s philanthropic base.
"All I can hope is that people will see that this is an organization that will bring a lot of support and peace to people, that we’re different," Weber said. "Fundraising is a fact of life. Our competition isn’t so much the other capital campaigns out there. It’s the economy in general."
Weber remains optimistic the final pieces of her puzzle will fall into place, and the organization has a variety of fundraising events and strategies planned.
"For an organization that has no program yet, no members and no facility, we’ve raised $1.5 million in two years," she said. "It’s been hard, but the challenge will be the next $1 million, because people see a building going up, and they think you’ve got all the money raised."

Oct. 11, 2002 Small Business Times, Milwaukee

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