Helping hand

Information is power.

Those afflicted with cancer, and their families, often feel powerless in face of the disease. It’s difficult to get all the information they need from their physician, whose time is limited, and the myriad sources available in libraries and on the Internet can seem overwhelming.

In her 23 years as a clinical social worker, Eileen Saffran saw cancer patients and their families in need of information and support, but they didn’t know where to turn.

“It’s something I knew was missing in the whole scope of living with cancer,” says Saffran, founder and executive director of The Gathering Place. “I set out to fill a gap. It came from my thoughts, and then a whole lot of other people who came over to make this happen, too. They knew there was more to offer than what was being offered.”

Founded in January 2000, The Gathering Place was created to teach those affected by cancer coping techniques to minimize the effects of stress. The organization offers a resource center and lending library, which houses more than 1,500 books, audiotapes, videos and CDs on topics including stress management, relaxation, nutrition, grief and loss, exercise and complimentary medicine.

The library subscribes to 45 oncology journals and newsletters with the latest treatments and a medical database run by a full-time librarian.

The Gathering Place offers several support groups and programs, where cancer patients and their families can meet with others on the same journey. There are also exercise and massage therapy programs to promote healing and relaxation, as well as lectures from nationally known authors and medical experts.

All these services are offered free of charge. The organization operates on individual and corporation donations, foundation support and fund-raising events. In 2002, The Gathering Place raised $1.08 million, up from $810,000 from the previous year. Only 10 percent of that revenue went to administrative expenses, thanks to the organization’s 250 volunteers who contribute their time and expertise.

“The staff here is all seasoned professionals who have at least about 15 to 18 years of experience in the field,” Saffran says. “(They) left jobs to come to this start-up because this was the place where they could finally do their life’s work.”

To date, The Gathering Place has served more than 4,000 people from 10 states and three countries. Plans are in the works for a second location in Northeast Ohio. How to reach: The Gathering Place, (216) 595-9546