Sometimes the World is a Very Small Place
More than twenty years ago, Jill Durovsik attended her cousin’s bridal shower. Casually chatting with the groom’s mother, she mentioned she’d recently had a baby, had sold the business she’d been running, and was looking for something to do with a little spare time.
Her cousin’s future mother-in-law, a breast cancer survivor, asked if Jill had ever head of The Wellness Community.
Surprisingly, since there wasn’t a local chapter, Jill had more than heard of The Wellness Community. She’d learned all about the cancer support organization from Gilda Radner’s book, It’s Always Something, and had searched for a similar support community locally when her mother, Jean Holler, received her lung cancer diagnosis.
“My mother had a very quick cancer experience,” Jill remembers. “She was diagnosed in February; she died in April. She’d always been very outgoing, funny, and engaging – but this isolation began when she was diagnosed and started treatment.”
“If there had been something for her that involved other people with cancer able to offer support for her, I know that would have made such a difference. But I looked and I found nothing.”
So when the groom’s mother, Connie Carino, told Jill she was starting The Wellness Community of Philadelphia (later renamed The Cancer Support Community of Philadelphia), Jill was on track to be a member of the founding board before her cousin opened her last gift.
“There Wasn’t a Single Friend I Didn’t Ask for Help”
The Wellness Community of Philadelphia initially opened its doors on the ground floor of Rockaway Bedding on City Line Avenue.
But Connie, Jill, and the board members soon found a more permanent home – the beautiful Ridgeland mansion in Fairmount Park, whose rent-free lease was made possible through the generosity of the City of Philadelphia and Keith Morgan and his family’s foundation.
That’s where Jill’s start-up stories take a humorous turn.
The board wanted to create a warm, homelike environment for their participants. The Fairmount Park Historic Preservation Trust, which owned Ridgeland mansion, wanted to make sure it remained historically sympathetic.
So while the country’s other cancer support communities asked friends and family to donate that old couch they didn’t want, Jill had to beg hers to go out and purchase antique furniture to meet the trust’s requirements.
Birds had to be chased from an accompanying barn which then needed extensive renovations – something another one of Jill’s friends stepped up to help fund.
And while Ridgeland mansion now sits in a safe, well-occupied, and well-policed section of Fairmount Park, things were a little different when it first opened its doors to families living with cancer.
“No one else had a presence in our section of the park, then,” Jill remembers. “Wild dogs would wander around the property at night. We had to have someone on hand to escort the members to their cars after the evening programs. And we were robbed three times. You’d answer your phone and it would be Connie Carino sighing that all the computers had been stolen again.”
Then there were the efforts to tame the actual property – another area where Jill’s loved ones stepped up.
“My aunt and uncle were literally our gardeners,” Jill says. “I’d be at Ridgeland for a meeting, and I’d look out a window and there they’d be. Chopping these vines down. Planting this or that.”
(Among the victories of the couple’s war with the earth: the beautiful tree that sits in the middle of Ridgeland’s driveway, welcoming everyone to the center, and the daffodils that surround it.)
But the Durovsik family’s most important addition to the Ridgeland landscape would be the Jean C. Holler Contemplation Garden.
Sit and Be and Feel like You Have a Little More Control Over Your Life
Her mother’s experience with cancer had set Jill on a path to help open the Ridgeland cancer support community. So it was only fitting that Jean Holler have a permanent place there.
“The garden grew out of wanting to do something to memorialize my mom and to create something that would last over years and decades and be a special place for people to go,” Jill says. “We had a great committee – and a wonderful landscape architect who came on board.”
Jill remembers the woman telling her that gardens were humans’ way of controlling nature.
“I immediately thought of fighting cancer,” Jill says. “When you’re going through that, it’s important that you feel you have some control. When you come to Ridgeland or any of our locations, you’re with other people who really understand what you’re going through. You can get help and you can give help. And when you leave, you hopefully feel a little more in control of what’s happening to you, your body, your family, and your life.”
“That was really the thought process behind the garden. You can be there in the quiet, in nature, in this protected and beautiful space.”
And, in addition being used by Cancer Support Community programs such as Tai Chi and meditation, the contemplation garden does see members just come and sit and be and feel like they have a little more control over their lives when they leave.
“Every time I’m at Ridgeland, I have to go look at the garden or walk through it,” Jill says. “It just feels like my mom’s there, hanging out. It’s such a nice feeling. I still get teary.”
A Trail of Tributes
Many other people get that same feeling – nice, maybe a little teary – as they walk to the contemplation garden.
“When we were planning the garden, we wanted to have a meditative walk to get there,” Jill explains. “It starts to the right of the Ridgeland mansion in a gazebo archway, and this brick path brings you down between two birch trees and into the contemplation garden.”
The bricks on the pathway can be inscribed with messages in honor or in memory of a loved one, and many members of the community have chosen to pay tribute to friends and family in this way.
As Jill points out, it’s a lovely concept, this trail of tributes leading to the contemplation garden. In many ways, it’s a physical manifestation of the fact that the people we love are always in our hearts and thoughts.
Want to Purchase a Brick in Honor or Memory of a Loved One?
Thank you! Your gift of a brick will be a beautiful tribute to your loved one and will help support local men, women, and children living with cancer.
You can purchase bricks along the pathway leading to the Jean C. Holler Memorial Garden (one size available) or around the Gilda’s Club Gazebo (three sizes available) using our online order form or by mailing in our print order form. For more information, please visit our Tribute Giving page.