In 1992 a young woman, Shawn Campbell ’96, embarked on an exciting path to pursue her education at Lake Superior State as a nursing student. She ended up graduating with her Bachelor’s degree in therapeutic recreation and is currently the Vice President of Development of Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids.
Drawing her away from her hometown for a strong performing nursing program, small class sizes on a beautiful campus, coupled with being affordable, Campbell knew Lake State was the perfect fit for her. There were a lot of opportunities for learning both inside the classroom and within the Sault Ste. Marie community. Campbell eventually changed her focus from nursing to therapeutic recreation, still wanting to make a difference in the lives of others. Since LSSU is surrounded by nature, unique recreational opportunities such as overnight camping trips, hiking, and canoeing courses were offered to enhance her education, which may not be readily available at other institutions.
As a student, Campbell enjoyed attending a wide range of sporting events, especially Laker Hockey. During her time at Lake State, the hockey program was on a winning streak and won national championships. Being a sports enthusiast, having close friends on the teams and supporting them was a special time. Campbell was also a writer for the student newspaper, The Compass, and was able to highlight college athletes such as Brian Rolston, who continued his hockey career into the Olympics and later the NHL. Through studying therapeutic recreation and combining her love of sports, she was able to become involved with Special Olympic teams which was an incredibly rewarding experience for her.
Being 4 1⁄2 hours away from home was difficult at times, but the close relationships she was able to develop with her professors and friends made her college career enjoyable. She said, “The professors took a lot of care about their students making me feel more at home and accepted.” Campbell also was a little sister of the Theta Chi Rho Fraternity Chapter at LSSU. By getting involved with clubs, she was able to make lifelong friendships and has continued to stay connected with many. Even though she is no longer living in the U.P., she still has strong connections to the people around the area. When the accident involving the Weaver family on Route 2 occurred earlier this year, Campbell felt the same pain as the communities in the Upper Peninsula. Fellow members of Theta Chi Rho, Tara and Jeff Weaver, were tragically taken from their family in a head on collision while traveling to their son’s basketball game. This tragic event hit close to home for her, even while being in a career field which focuses on supporting others during difficult times. Her experiences within her career have allowed her to develop certain skills involved with difficult times. “Watching the UP rally together and wrapping their arms around the Weaver family was a significant moment,” she says. During that time Campbell was able to reflect on how she is able to impact others during any period of grief with her work with Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids.
The education that Campbell received from Lake State well prepared her to enter the workforce strong. After graduating she was able to complete an internship within therapeutic recreation in Georgia. Upon concluding her time there, she was able to quickly find a job within that field at a licensed adult day center. Campbell began her career well prepared with the building blocks Lake State gave to her. She began serving older adults that had been faced with limitations and started creating recreation opportunities for them. With this experience, Campbell in turn started really learning about disease processes, such as Alzheimer’s and dementia. Through her participation in volunteering, working within nursing homes, and fundraising for the Alzheimer’s Association, she was able to shift her career into fundraising. The courses she took during her time at LSSU and learning experiences are used every day which includes aspects of supporting others and her community.
Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids provides free cancer and grief support for anyone going through a cancer journey or the death of someone in their life, even if it was not cancer related. Named after one of the original comedians of Saturday Night Live, Gilda Radner, Gilda’s Club is solely funded on the generosity of others and has been in operation for 22 years. Gilda went through an ovarian cancer journey and after her death, Gilda’s husband, Gene Wilder, and her therapist, put together the foundation for Gilda’s Club. Throughout her journey with cancer, she brought others together to support one another during one of life’s most difficult journeys. Those who come to Gilda’s Club to receive services are named members because Gilda would say that having cancer makes you a member of a club you never wanted to join.
Campbell and her team are responsible for all aspects of raising the funds necessary to keep the programs offered by Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids free for anyone who walks through their doors. On an annual average, the development team raises around $1.5 million annually. Campbell provides the overall leadership to develop the sustainable strategies necessary to achieve this goal. Together with grants, corporate funding and individual donors allows them to maintain their budget. One of the greatest assets to Gilda’s Club from the fundraising side is the diverse revenue stream. When there are tougher economic times, some areas perform better and will assist others not doing as well. Having this diverse revenue stream is necessary to ensure Gilda’s Club can keep up with the community’s need for services.
As a way to incorporate Gilda’s comedic side into the organization, Campbell and her team each year plan a comedy festival called Gilda’s Laughfest. Laughfest is a 5 day event that includes just under 50 free and ticketed events for the community. The comedy shows range anywhere from clean comedy acts to dirty comedy jokes, local talent comedians to headliners. Needless to say, there is a comedy show for everyone to enjoy. Through the festival’s Laughter Rx Program the “serious behind the funny” is highlighted. Laughter Rx includes a symposium continuing education units for nurses and social workers are provided with learning about the healing power of laughter. There is also a Cancer Survivor Showcase which those who are currently on a cancer journey or have experienced one can take to the mic and are able to find their smile during life’s tough moments. Gilda’s Laughfest brings in anywhere from 10-12% of the overall operating budget, so it is only one component of the revenue brought in to support the people at Gilda’s.
In addition to the Laughfest, expected to be held next year in March, Gilda’s Club has other upcoming events planned throughout 2023. The next fundraising effort is the Gilda’s Club Open golf outing and is planned for June 26th at Blythefield Country Club in Grand Rapids. On September 16th, Gilda’s Club is planning a peer to peer fundraising event called West Side Walk. This event starts and ends at Gilda’s Club and allows for members and their families to become more involved in the organization and see what it is all about. The walk is a well-attended event and raises over $100,000 while also highlighting the mission of Gilda’s and inviting people to their grounds.
There are many on-going volunteer opportunities within the organization. Gilda’s Club is located on 6 acres of land which is used as an extension of the programs. Upcoming this summer there are a lot of outdoor volunteers to help maintain the grounds to create a warm and inviting space including a labyrinth and flower gardens. Gilda’s also provides meals for people several nights a week before groups as a way to create a community around the table and help break down barriers. It helps take one less stressor away. Members just have to come, dinner will be provided and then they go to their groups. A lot of volunteers who help are preparing and serving these meals. In addition, special event volunteers are needed to help events get off the ground and create planning committees for these events. There are a wide variety of opportunities and something for everyone if they have an interest to get involved.