At the end of a particularly long day at a Gilda’s Club camp for children touched by cancer, Karen Morrison was feeling a bit weary, but her spirit was lifted by the kids.
“We had a camper who’s been living with cancer for a long time say, ‘I look forward to this week all year long,’ ” said Morrison, president and CEO of Gilda’s Club Kentuckiana.
“And then we had another camper say at the end of the day, ‘This was the best day of my life,’ ” Morrison said. ” … It made me think, ‘This is why I get up every day.’ ”
Camp Gilda is one of the many programs offered by the local nonprofit, which recently celebrated a move to a new location on Grinstead Drive and will be expanding its footprint soon to west Louisville and Southern Indiana.
“We don’t offer any direct medical care, but the care we provide — the peer-based psycho-social support — is really critical to whole cancer care,” Morrison said.
The club, which offers various services for individuals and families affected by cancer, served about 1,700 people last year at its old location on Baxter Avenue before moving to its new home in July.
Thanks to the new building, “we have the capacity now to serve three times as many people,” Morrison said. “So it is our goal within the next five years to triple the number of people we serve. And we’re already seeing more people — more adults and children.”
For example, “there are about 55 kids and teenage counselors, many of whom — the counselors too — have been touched by cancer or are currently living with cancer,” Morrison said. “So that’s a much bigger number than we’ve ever had before.”
The new 35,000-square-foot building at 2440 Grinstead Drive combines the former Burger’s Market, which had been vacant for several years, with a former fine arts building of the Louisville Collegiate School’s.
“Our architects had to come up with a design to create one contiguous building, and that was a pretty big challenge,” Morrison said. “… The architects, Potter & Associates, came up with a design. They created new construction with a lobby and an atrium that melded the two buildings together. It’s beautifully done.”
A ribbon-cutting ceremony last week attracted more than 200 supporters, including many community partners and donors who helped fund the $14.2 million project.
The building has many advantages over the old location, which had parking constraints and areas that had to serve multiple purposes.
“We had one room previously that was a dance hall, dining hall, concert hall, lecture hall,” Morrison said. “We did everything in that single room, from yoga to karaoke to dinners to jazz to comedy. And now we’ve got multiple spaces that can hold a larger number of people and one very large communal space that can hold nearly 400 people.”
And there’s more growth on the horizon.
The nonprofit is planning to open a branch office at the newly constructed west Louisville YMCA — in collaboration with Kentucky African Americans Against Cancer — by the end of the year.
“We’re working with not only Kentucky African Americans Against Cancer, but folks like the Urban League and the churches,” Morrison said. “It’s important for us to work within the community to build a referral base and build awareness.”
Gilda’s also is moving toward offering services in Southern Indiana — most likely after the west Louisville site has opened, Morrison said.
“We’re trying to do it very strategically, and in partnership with other groups who are working with families riddled with cancer,” she said. “We never want to do anything alone that we can do with community partners.”