Kim Praitano has spent her career building organizations that support the community. As CEO of Gilda’s Club South Florida, she shares the mission that all people impacted by cancer are empowered by knowledge, strengthened by action and sustained by community.
1. Tell us a little bit about your background and how you came to Gilda’s Club?
For most of my career, I’ve had dual interests and education with master’s degrees in criminal justice and social work. Criminal issues and social issues many times are two sides of the same coin, but ultimately, I wanted to affect positive social change, and my strengths led me to do that by creating strong nonprofit organizations. For more than 35 years, that’s been my purpose: building strong organizations that support staff who support the community.
When I interviewed for the position in 2016 and met the board of directors, I was hooked. There was a sense of purpose, community and commitment in them, and I wanted to be part of that magic.
2. How would you best describe Gilda’s Club and the “Club’s” mission?
Gilda’s Club South Florida is a nonprofit named in honor of Gilda Radner, original cast member of Saturday Night Live, who died of ovarian cancer in 1992. Gilda’s dream was to develop a community where anyone with cancer would receive the kind of support she had found while living with the disease. The first Club opened in New York City in 1995 and additional Clubs soon expanded across the U.S. and Canada. Our mission is to ensure that all people impacted by cancer are empowered by knowledge, strengthened by action and sustained by community.
Today, Gilda’s Club serves all those impacted by cancer, including patients, survivors, family and friends; those grieving loss, adults and children and is the largest provider of free psychosocial cancer support in South Florida. The Club offers approximately 24 support groups each month, educational workshops and symposia, healthy-living classes, social activities and resource and linkage services. The best oncology professionals from most of the cancer centers throughout South Florida collaborate with Gilda’s Club to ensure cancer patients are educated.
3. The nonprofit world has been incredibly impacted by the pandemic. What has the past year been like for you and the organization?
At first, there was silence. In March 2020, we all quarantined at home, and I feared the worst and prayed for the best. As a team, we pulled together to provide services to cancer patients and their families without missing a day. We figured out new technologies and communicated through programs like Microsoft Teams and Zoom. Before long, we were versed in digital fundraising, and there was nothing that we couldn’t do remotely.
On June 30, we will end an entire fiscal year with more growth than ever before, raising more funds and providing expanded services to more people. We fared better than most. Although we long to be in person and know there’s nothing like in-person human interaction, we’ll never forego the technology that allows people to access services remotely when they can’t be there in person.
4. As the country reopens, what is your focus on right now?
Because of the significant growth we experienced since those initial days of the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with the rise in obstacles to cancer care, we are focused on selling our current building and purchasing a larger building that allows state-of-the-art programming in an environment that allows for social distancing. The number of people diagnosed with cancer each year is growing, and Gilda’s Club South Florida needs to be ready to do more.
Our business model is that we don’t charge for any services. We’ll have a 50% increase in new cancer diagnoses by the year 2030. I’m so proud that we are planning for the future sustainability of Gilda’s Club South Florida so that we ensure that we will be there for all those who come through our red door impacted by cancer.
5. Gilda’s Club has been a resource since 1997 for South Floridians affected by cancer. How can people get involved?
Many cancer organizations focus on research which is desperately needed. What makes Gilda’s Club unique is that we provide direct services to individuals and families right now, and we provide a community of support which members happily join. Patients, caregivers, family members, staff, board members, volunteers, funders and donors are all part of our community. Cancer is the great equalizer, and we believe in taking on cancer together. In true Gilda Radner style, we like to laugh and have fun.
Volunteers are a critical part of our community, and our most pressing volunteer need is help with our capital campaign, enabling us to reopen and best serve those that need us. We also have opportunities to work on our event committees, board leadership and assisting with our move.
Bonus question: Were you a Gilda Radner fan growing up?
Absolutely! I was in high school, and SNL was a show that everyone was watching on Saturday night and discussing on Monday morning in homeroom. We imitated “Roseanne Roseannadanna” and laughed as we remembered her comedy.
To learn how you can support Gilda’s Club of South Florida, please call 954-763-6776 or visit https://gildasclubsouthflorida.org