The Gathering Place has been serving the community in Beachwood and beyond for almost 20 years, having reached out to about 45,000 individuals through 450,000 visits. Through their Wellness Without Walls initiative, the organization is looking to provide support for even more families and individuals in the coming years.
“I’m leaving The Gathering Place as the founder, having done this work for about 22 years,” said CEO Eileen Saffran. “At the end of the year I’ll be handing the baton over and, as I leave, I really wanted to kind of set the vision, if you will, for the future of the organization. That’s where Wellness Without Walls kind of bubbled up.”
The program will provide free programs for people diagnosed by cancer in the neighborhoods where they live through hospitals and community organizations. Though the program is still mainly in its conceptual phase, Ms. Saffran said, the organization’s board of directors already has created the Eileen Saffran Innovation Fund, which will provide $250,000 toward kick-starting plans for “human capital.”
“In other words, to expand staff because our staff presently isn’t going to be the same people that are going to be able to be out in the community,” Ms. Saffran explained.
The organization does, however, already have plans to use three-year funding to send a full-time staff member to two different University Hospitals of Cleveland cancer care centers, starting in January of 2020, to help the staff strategize support for nonmedical needs for patients and family. This is similar to one aspect of what Wellness Without Walls would do, Ms. Saffran said.
“What we’re in the phase of doing is really kind of sharing the vision, raising the funds and having the discussions in the community to look at who our partnerships may be, whether they’re hospitals or health centers or community centers,” Ms. Saffran said of the ongoing process of building the Wellness Without Walls program.
The organization has begun reaching out. Mary Fisher Bornstein, the staff member responsible for grief groups at The Gathering Place, said she was sent to University Hospitals Seidman Cancer Center in Beachwood and the UH Geauga Medical Center in Chardon to talk with their staff members about responding to grief.
“They’re so busy that they don’t have a lot of time for supporting each other and talking to each other,” she said of the staff members she led a session for. “We talked about building a tool box, for them personally to build a tool box for themselves of things that help them to rest, relax and kind of rejuvenate.”
Sarah Richard, a social worker at UH Geauga Medical Center who works with cancer patients several days a week, asked Ms. Fisher Bornstein for help.
“Knowing that they needed extra support and not necessarily myself having the time or the resources to support staff, I reached out to the Gathering Place to see if there was anything that they could do for our staff here,” Ms. Richard said. “And that’s when Mary, who was great, volunteered her time and came out here and has been doing a support group for us.”
Ms. Fisher Bornstein said that she and Ms. Richard are planning on having a monthly support group, but Ms. Richard acknowledged that patients still need the support that the Wellness Without Walls program could provide.
“Making sure that they (patients) are hooked up with counseling and support groups is a little bit of an obstacle out here because this is really sort of the middle of nowhere,” she said. “There’s just not a lot of support out here for cancer patients and their families. They’re having to travel to The Gathering Place. That’s some place that we recommend all the time, but it doesn’t get taken advantage of as much as it should, only because the transportation is such an issue.”
Chagrin Falls native Suzanne Davis spoke about the ways that The Gathering Place supported her family as they faced her husband Chris Davis’ stage four lung cancer diagnosis and death in 2017 at the age of 41. Ms. Davis said she found out about the organization through participating in the Race for the Place 5K fundraiser, and turned to the organization almost immediately on her husband receiving his diagnosis. She and her two children, William, 9, and Addie, 7, still attend The Gathering Place for their “Bridges” sessions, which aid family members in transitioning to life after the death of their loved one.
Ms. Davis said that attending sessions at The Gathering Place was always worth the drive, though she recognized that not all families have the support she does. Even with support, getting to the sessions can be a coordinating challenge.
“I try to pick [William] up at 6:15, which is halfway through his soccer practice to then get to the gathering place by 6:30 for their session. It’s logistically challenging. But completely worth it.”
Ms. Davis said that though The Gathering Place has amazing support programs, people in the community still may not hear about it when they or their loved one receives a diagnosis. She hopes that doctors and staff at hospitals continue to come alongside The Gathering Place and let their patients know about the support it offers.
As for the potential of The Gathering Place sending staff members into the community, Ms. Davis recalled that some staff members often came out to support her outside of their work hours, and several attended Mr. Davis’ funeral, including Ms. Saffran. But, she said, having staff dedicated to being out in the community would be even better.
“I do think like maybe that support at home or in my community directly, it would be really nice. Especially for people that probably have a harder time getting there,” Ms. Davis said.
“I think I’ve come to be so lucky to have The Gathering Place be a part of my life for the last three years,” she added, reflecting on the support she received from the organization. “In retrospect, we really could not have done it without them.”