Opening the Red Door

A Leap of Faith …

For Karen Reif, the watershed moment came in the form of a neglected, pest-infested white farmhouse in Warminster.

Karen with some Gilda's Club friends at the organization's Anniversary Party.
Karen with some Gilda’s Club friends at the organization’s Anniversary Party.

A couple years prior, she had been approached by a friend about joining a board that was working to create a free cancer support community in Bucks County.

As Karen had two other friends dealing with breast cancer diagnoses at the time, she had a deep appreciation for the need for social and emotional cancer support.

So she joined the board of the future Gilda’s Club Delaware Valley (which would later become CSCGP’s Gilda’s Club location) – and threw everything she had into getting the organization off the ground.

The group moved into a small house on the Doylestown Hospital campus, decorated and furnished through the generosity of Karen’s friend Ann Silverman to convey the warm, homelike feeling that Gilda’s Club would have.

The house was too small to actually hold programs, but that wasn’t an issue. It was simply meant to show donors what their gifts would help start down the line. The board was just in the early stages of getting the revenue together to get Gilda’s Club off the ground.

And then the County of Bucks turned around and offered them a deeply discounted lease on exactly the kind of property they’d need.

It was a mess. Holes in the roof meant it rained inside whenever it rained outside. A hole in a second floor bathroom could drop an unwary visitor into the living room. Human inhabitants had moved out years before; the current residents were mostly of the rodent variety.

It would require hundreds of thousands of dollars of work.

But it could be perfect.

They weren’t ready. They couldn’t afford to take it.

People needed cancer support now. They couldn’t afford not to take it.

They took it.

“We took a leap of faith,” Karen said. “It was, in a word, terrifying.”

… Made Possible By the Generosity of So Many

Fortunately the Gilda’s Club board, so many members of the local community stepped up to help turn the farmhouse from something that looked like it should have been condemned into a beautiful refuge for families affected by cancer.

“I have to give so much credit to State Rep. Gene DiGirolamo,” Karen said. “He helped us make connections with so many unions – construction unions, electrician unions …”

Union members, in turn, donated mass amounts of time and materials.

“We estimated that about a million dollars worth of work went into the house,” Karen remembered. “Almost all of it was donated.”

The owner of a local construction company expanded and retrofitted a garage on the property to house Noogieland, Gilda’s Club’s children’s program.

Local businesses and individuals donated appliances, furniture, fabric and accessories.

Karen’s friends and family and so many other volunteers scrubbed floors and windows and moved furniture.

It was in short “kind of a stressful year,” Karen said. “But we got through it because of the generosity of so many people.”

Opening the Red Door

The Cancer Support Community's Gilda's Club location.
The Cancer Support Community’s Gilda’s Club location.

Everything the board went through, however, became worth it when Gilda’s Club was able to open its signature red door to local families living with cancer.

Gilda’s held a weekend-long party to introduce the organization to the community.

“We must have had 700 people come through,” Karen said. “And you just had to take a moment and be absolutely amazed. The house is done; it looks spectacular. We have programs going on. People are coming to us for support. And they’re telling us that this was something they needed, that it was long overdue.”

“It was just a moment – a brief moment because, of course, you’re always worried about bringing the funding in to keep the programs free – but a moment where you could go, ‘We did it. We really did it.’”

CSCGP’s Gilda’s Club location celebrates that opening weekend each year with our Anniversary Party. Join us for this year’s event on June 21 at Gilda’s Club from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. for free food, live entertainment, and the chance to celebrate another year of free cancer support. And stay tuned for the Ridgeland location’s Birthday Part in July!