Three days later, we celebrated the housewarming of Gilda's Club, a new counseling and family-support center for cancer patients in New York City. Gilda Radner's widower, Gene Wilder, and her psychotherapist, Joanna Bull, first approached PEOPLE president Ann Moore in 1992 with their plans for the club. Radner herself had found solace at a similar institution in California, and before her death from ovarian cancer in 1989, she expressed hope that other free counseling centers could be created elsewhere.
Moore joined the Gilda's Club board and was active in buying and renovating its five-story townhouse in Greenwich Village. "Everything was donated," says Moore. "Every wall-board, nut, screw, electrical outlet and light switch. Sears gave us all of the appliances; Toys "R" Us renovated the children's center; ABC even sent over the carpenters from All My Children to build the kids a gazebo!" Guests at the opening party, including actor Mandy Patinkin and singer Laurie Beechman, sent picture frames, lamps and potted plants along with their R.S.V.P.'s.
"Gilda's club is a community that gives people a chance to share the wisdom of their collective experience through support groups, workshops, lectures, potluck suppers and joke-fests," says Bull, who serves as executive director. "The idea is to take charge of your life, together with others going through the same thing, and not feel helpless."
The financial donations that made the club possible, many from PEOPLE readers who responded to Moore's first plea for aid in 1992, have proved, says Moore, "that if you think a community can't get behind a good idea, you are not asking the right people. Gilda's Club just snowballed itself into existence, and I am charmed every time I go inside."
Additional Gilda's Clubs are being planned in Detroit, Fort Lauderdale and Ashtabula County, Ohio. To find out more, call 212-647-9889. For information about the Pediatric AIDS Foundation, call 310-395-9051.