The Benjamins’ Dream
In 1982, Dr. Harold Benjamin and his wife Harriet founded an organization called The Wellness Community dedicated to providing free support, education, and hope to families affected by cancer.
The Benjamins believed in the powerful connection between emotions and physical well-being. Harriet was a breast cancer survivor, and both she and Harold had benefitted from the encouragement of family and friends during their cancer journey.
Their experience with this support system and its role in Harriet’s recovery became the foundation for Dr. Benjamin’s Patient Active Concept, which encourages active participation in cancer treatment, camaraderie, and community “to improve the quality of life and enhance the possibility of recovery.”
The Benjamins’ original dream sparked a transformation within the cancer care community that began in Los Angeles and is still going strong today.
Gilda Radner’s Legacy
Gilda Radner is best known as an original cast member of Saturday Night Live. As one of the “Not Ready for Prime Time Players,” she created loveable characters like Rosanne Rosannadanna, Emily Litella and Lisa Loopner.
Gilda was also one of the first participants in the Wellness Community and became one of its biggest advocates. She felt it provided “a community for people who have cancer to come and play in, to make their lives better, to have an opportunity to help themselves and help other people.”
Sadly, Gilda’s cancer was diagnosed too late for effective treatment. Following her death, her husband (actor and comedian Gene Wilder), her psychotherapist Joanna Bill, and many of her friends founded an organization similar to the Wellness Community Gilda had loved.
They called the organization Gilda’s Club because of Gilda’s tongue-in-cheek comment that having cancer in her life made her a member of an elite club to which she’d rather not belong.
Merging Two Organizations: The Birth of the Cancer Support Community
As the years went on, the need for social and emotional cancer support lead both the Wellness Community and Gilda’s Club to see tremendous growth, with both organizations opening chapters throughout the country.
In 2009, the headquarters organizations of the Wellness Community and Gilda’s Club merged to form the Cancer Support Community. Today, the CSC is an international non-profit dedicated to providing support, education and hope to help affected by cancer.
A (Greater) Philadelphia Story
Both the Wellness Community and Gilda’s Club saw a dedicated group of individuals come together to open affiliates in the Greater Philadelphia region.
The Wellness Community of Philadelphia (in Fairmount Park) opened in 1993, with Gilda’s Club Delaware Valley (in Warminster, Bucks County) opening its doors in 2003.
Like all the affiliates of either organization, both The Wellness Community of Philadelphia and Gilda’s Club Delaware Valley were independent non-profits.
Governed by members of their local communities, and financially supported almost entirely by local individuals and organizations, they brought their parent organizations’ evidence-based social and emotional cancer support programs to area families affected by cancer.
In 2013, the boards of directors for both Gilda’s Club Delaware Valley and the Wellness Community of Philadelphia (renamed the Cancer Support Community of Philadelphia following the national merger) began exploring a merger on the local level. Their goals were to increase efficiency and stretch their generous donors’ gifts even further to help even more families in the Greater Philadelphia region affected by cancer.
The merger was approved by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania at the end of 2013, and 2014 saw the birth of the Cancer Support Community Greater Philadelphia (CSCGP): one cancer support organization serving the region.
To continue to honor Gilda Radner’s legacy, CSCGP’s Warminster location is known as CSCGP at Gilda’s Club. The Fairmount Park location is known as CSCGP at the Suzanne Morgan Center at Ridgeland to honor Suzanne and the Morgan family for their tremendous work to expand cancer support services in the region.