Raised in a home that valued community service, Carrie Puterbaugh always felt she had a responsibility to give back. When her mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and eventually passed away, Puterbaugh knew the perfect way to give back was through Gilda’s Club, a cancer support organization built on the values of someone she adored—comedian Gilda Radner, one of the original cast members of Saturday Night Live.
After being a financial supporter for many years, Puterbaugh, director of quality engineering at RBC Wealth Management–U.S., decided she wanted to give more than just financially to the organization. She wanted to be involved. She wanted a “clubhouse.”
As Radner said herself, “Cancer gave me membership into an elite club I would rather not belong.” Clubhouses were created with that concept in mind and aim to provide members of the club with peace, hope and support.
Fueled by that mission, Puterbaugh worked tirelessly with her co-founders, Jenni Lilledahl and Dolly Lowery, to establish a Gilda’s Club in the Twin Cities and ensure its success.
“We wrote a business plan, collected letters of support, raised money and so many other things,” Puterbaugh says. “Gilda’s Club is successful because you have to do your homework and get support from the community before the national organization will allow an affiliate location to open. Supporting one another is infused into the entire process.”
Gilda’s Club, an affiliate of the Cancer Support Community, takes pride in the atmosphere of their clubhouses. Each of the 40 clubhouses creates a warm and welcoming space that offers free social, emotional and psychological support, in unexpected ways. Each month, Gilda’s Club Twin Cities offers more than 130 programs, including yoga and cooking classes, educational workshops, social opportunities and seven different types of support groups. These programs are not only offered to individuals living with cancer, but to their families and friends, too.
“When you are looking at your own mortality and you know you are not going to see your kids grow up, is it so devastating. To have a place like Gilda’s Club, to come and build a community with people who are going through the same thing is invaluable,” Puterbaugh says. “People there are real. We are all stripped down to our real self. We are not putting on a persona like we do in regular, day-to-day life.”
Aside from offering forms of both traditional and nontraditional support, Gilda’s Club gives their volunteers, like Puterbaugh, a lot of the credit for their continued success. With the exception of support groups, which are led by licensed mental health professionals, subject-matter expert volunteers deliver all other offerings.
“It is always such a special relationship that volunteers create with our members,” says Annie Stone, program coordinator of Gilda’s Club Twin Cities. “Carrie is capable of building such unique relationships. For people who are going through cancer and a time of chaos, to have someone like Carrie, who is present and emotionally capable of connecting, is invaluable.”
Now, more than seven years old, Gilda’s Club Twin Cities is flourishing because of the continued dedication of Puterbaugh.
“Not only is she a founder, but she is also a really tremendous connector in the community,” Stone says. “As we are 100 percent philanthropically funded, she is constantly connecting us with organizations that help serve our members. Now that people know we’re here, we have seen tremendous growth.”
Since opening in 2014, Gilda’s Club Twin Cities has had, on average, 2,500 annual program visits and welcomed more than 2,000 members. Aside from the abundance of programs offered, Puterbaugh believes it’s the values the organization was founded on that make the difference.
“From the members to the staff, to the world-wide organization, it is Gilda’s magic,” Puterbaugh says. “It is a gathering place for warm-hearted and compassionate people, with a good sense of humor, who want to help fulfill Gilda Radner’s dream that no one should face cancer alone.”
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