The Lake House merges with Gilda’s Club Metro Detroit

Organization provides support, programs and therapy for those affected by cancer

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published March 15, 2019

ST. CLAIR SHORES — Nearly eight years after opening its doors to those living with cancer on the east side, The Lake House will keep its mission — but get a new name, as it merges with Gilda’s Club Metro Detroit.

“We actually started as Gilda’s Club East — that was our original incorporation 10 years ago. Before we even opened, the founders renamed us The Lake House,” said Lake House Executive Director Madeline Bialecki. “We have had phenomenal program growth, but our infrastructure didn’t grow apace, so we really were not sustainable alone.”

The Lake House first opened on Little Mack Avenue on May 1, 2011, moving to its current location at the Pare Nonprofit Center, 23500 Pare St., Suite 1, in December 2016. Offering programming, support and therapy for those living with cancer, their families, caregivers and survivors, The Lake House served 508 members in 2018 with just two full-time staff members. One hundred twenty-five new members joined in 2018, a 28 percent increase.

“That was just not sustainable,” Bialecki said.

Laura Varon Brown, the executive director and CEO of Gilda’s Club Metro Detroit, said that The Lake House originally grew out of interest from some Gilda’s Club board members who wished to have an entirely separate facility on the east side. But being only 16 miles apart, the “territory is too interconnected.”

That’s why the decision to merge the two groups, keeping The Lake House as an off-site location, now makes sense, she said.

Gilda’s Club Metro Detroit was incorporated in 1993 and moved to its permanent clubhouse at 3517 Rochester Road in Royal Oak in 1998. It’s an affiliate of the Cancer Support Community, which operates nationally as Gilda’s Club and Cancer Support Community, depending on the location.

Both directors say that they hope members won’t notice the changeover because programming will remain the same at Gilda’s Club Metro Detroit’s Lake House location.

“For me, it was an honor to be trusted to take on a vision that so many people felt strongly about,” Varon Brown said. “The existing programming, what I want it to be, is seamless. I do hope that the members will find, within the next six months to a year, that there will be additional programming.”

Gilda’s Club has been in metro Detroit for 25 years. With the merger, members of both organizations will be able to take advantage of support groups, classes and other programming at whichever location they choose. Gilda’s Club Metro Detroit, for example, offers clinical support groups with master’s level counselors, which The Lake House does not, Varon Brown said.

“We hope that they will be able to come to Royal Oak, but also, we’re going to start new programming at The Lake House location,” she said.

Bialecki said that they hope to bring more evening programming to Gilda’s Club Metro Detroit’s Lake House location as well.

Some members of The Lake House board, which has been disbanded, have joined Gilda’s Club Metro Detroit’s board as members at large. Bialecki said they hope to have the transition complete by May 1. However, there are some things — like Laughs for The Lake House, its clean comedy night fundraiser April 11 — that have to happen first because ticket sales and donations had already begun when the merger was announced.

“The mission has been the same and the work has been the same; it’s just been a struggle to develop the infrastructure that we need,” Bialecki said. “We’re keeping the same staff. If anything, we’re just adding.

“Hopefully, we’ll have the infrastructure now to serve our members with more programming.”

Bialecki will remain the director at Gilda’s Club Metro Detroit’s Lake House location, Varon Brown said.

“We want to get to know the community,” Varon Brown said. “We’re going to take some time, see what the needs are.”

To learn more about Gilda’s Club Metro Detroit, visit Gildas ClubDetroit.org or call (248) 577-0800.

Tickets for Laughs for The Lake House cost $60 and include one drink, a cash bar, hors d’oeuvres, a comedy show from Ivan Decker, and live and silent auctions. The fundraiser will be held at 6 p.m. April 11 at Assumption Cultural Center, 21800 Marter Road. Tickets are available at milakehouse.org/donate/laughs-for-lake-house or by calling (586) 777-7761.