Very few people know that the word “gilda” is actually derived from the ancient Latin term for “volunteer.” And if you read that with any skepticism, it’s only because you’ve never been to the free cancer-support home called Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids. This 12-year old welcoming place for anyone dealing with cancer could not be there for all the 10,000 people it serves every year without Gilda’s volunteers.
The children, adults, family, and friends who come through Gilda’s distinct red door soon find themselves embraced, supported, and entertained by red-shirted men and women volunteers. They offer more than compassion; they also offer empathy because most of them have walked themselves or along side a loved one in the moccasins of cancer.
But it’s not enough that these devoted volunteers give their time at Gilda’s Club pouring coffee, playing with children, joining discussion groups, and simply holding a hand. When Gilda’s puts on an outside fundraiser to keep that red door wide open, the volunteers sign up in droves.
The late summer 2012 golf outing at Thousand Oaks Country Club was a case in point. Despite the 90-degree heat, Gilda’s volunteers spent a long afternoon happily greeting golfers at each hole with food, beverages, and gifts. They were smiling because they knew what they were doing. They were making sure other families like theirs will be able to walk through the open and free red door when one of their own is told, “You have cancer.”
It is true that Gilda Radner, the comic genius who died of cancer in 1989, was the inspiration for the Gilda’s support clubs around the country. But it’s also possible that her parents knew ancient Latin.