There is a little gem of a community treasure located in St. Clair Shores that is gradually becoming recognized for its contributions and guidance for patients and volunteers alike: The Lake House. Known as “The Gathering Place for Those Touched by Cancer,” The Lake House is now in its second location, getting out the message that “If there is cancer in your house, you are welcome in ours.”
The search to verify if there was any interest for such an organization began with a 2008 newspaper article announcing a meeting to discuss the proposed idea. More than 200 people attended.
In view of the existence of a west-side Detroit Gilda’s Club – a cancer center founded in honor of the late cancer victim, actress Gilda Radner – it seemed as if this idea was what Eastsiders had been waiting for.
Originally founded by 16 focused members from the medical community and other volunteers, The Lake House was established as Gilda’s Club East a decade ago. Under the driving force of St. John Hospital nurse Carolyn Schmidt, The Lake House came into existence largely because she carried that light forward. Both groups have an established crossover of board members and founders, as well as some members.
Ensconced initially in a converted SCS 7/11 building, The Lake House has since expanded with a 2017 move to the former Pare Elementary School where it shares spacious quarters with other non-profit organizations. Following a 2010/11 merger with Wellness Community, today The Lake House is officially known as Cancer Support Community. The 501C3 non-profit organization receives income from events, individual donations and grants.
“I’m willing to try anything,” says Executive Director Madeline Bialecki. “The first three years, we only were able to be open for three days; it’s my goal to be solvent enough to make it available for five days.”
In 2016, the Lake House served 350 individuals in the community; by 2017, that had grown to 400. In the first four months of 2018, the number was already shadowing 300. People are currently helped through 20 programs consisting of support groups, wellness activities, social activities, educational seminars, and spiritual activities. Meaningful connections have also been forged with St. John Hospital, Henry Ford Hospital, McLaren Macomb, Karmanos Cancer Institute and Beaumont Hospitals, all of whom also help with sponsorships.
As the only Lake House director with a background in non-profit management, Bialecki has helmed the ship and created a course for sure success. Anxious to establish roots and branches for The Lake House, she continues to dig deeper and fortify a solid foundation within the surrounding communities.
“Research has shown that with cancer, patients won’t exceed traveling more than 10 miles to receive support,” says Bialecki. In her role as the fourth official director, Bialecki has largely steered The Lake House into a burgeoning future.
Daughter to first-generation Polish-Americans, 66-year-old Bialecki’s circuitous route to The Lake House began as a Detroit native who traveled south to work at what is probably the most unlikely of places: the FBI. A clerk-stenographer and secretary for eight and a half years during the J. Edgar Hoover era, she then aimed to become an agent. That led to her college education at Villanova with receipt of both a Bachelor of the Arts degree in the Honors Program and a Master of the Arts in Religious Studies. It also resulted in a lifetime of loyalty to her alma mater for which she still serves as president of the Villanova Club of Michigan and Ohio.
Deciding to then leave the FBI, Bialecki veered into work with various small, start-up non-profits in the Philadelphia area: Citizen Advocates, Cabrini Mission Corps and the Delaware Literacy Council. From the latter, she segued into the cancer realm following the 2011 cancer diagnosis of a close friend, for whom she served as caregiver.
After his death, she returned to Michigan and read a 2013 article about The Lake House in a Detroit-area newspaper. Bialecki applied for, and landed, the position of executive director.
Suddenly, her untapped abilities were apparent, especially since they fit more of a management need than those of her three predecessors. The universal concern for cancer touches many, she says, and businesses and individuals alike reach out to work together in the common goal of facing it.
With cancer touching the lives of so many, today’s public has a greater awareness of the disease and seems to no longer be shy about raising funds to deal with it. It’s not a whispered affair to attend cancer centers for treatment – or fun. People generally arrive at The Lake House as patients, then frequently stay as volunteers and even dedicated program facilitators. It has become home to creativity, camaraderie, bustling activity but most of all, laughter and support.
Medical experts regularly present programs geared to enlighten, motivate, process and most importantly, provide hope and ammo to battle cancer. All efforts are assisted by the unwavering support of The Lake House’s board members, Program Coordinator Christina Lombardo, Administrative Assistant Kathie Diskin and Volunteer Coordinator Susanne Babcock.
Yearlong programs address all ages, levels of comfort and interest. During summer, the annual fly-fishing wellness retreats are launched each year, encompassing time spent on the Au Sable River in Grayling. This year, four separate groups will benefit from the non-profit organization Reeling & Healing’s excursion while seeking physical, emotional and spiritual healing. With one event in July and three in August, patients are each allowed one excursion to commune with nature and experience peer coaching, positive camaraderie and support.
The Lake House also assists those suffering with other health conditions through housing the PATH program, Personal Action Toward Health. An evidence-based senior program, it provides improved energy, less pain and confidence in health management for conditions such as arthritis, depression, diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease in six classes sponsored by the Area on Aging 1-B, spanning the months of June and July.
And, to address the shortages of blood types A, B and O, The Lake House will also host the American Red Cross on Wednesday, July 11 from 1–7 p.m.
Plans for the future include Bialecki’s desire for Lake House expansion as well as in serving others.
“I want to see further growth, including the addition of a facility in northern Macomb County,” she says. That, she adds, should eliminate anyone having to travel beyond that infamous 10-mile mark in Macomb County to receive support and help to defeat cancer.
The Lake House is located at 23500 Pare St., St. Clair Shores and is open Monday – Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. For more information, contact (586) 777.7761 or go to www.milakehouse.org.
Wendy Clem is a writer/editor in the greater-Detroit area who specializes in B2B content, history and humor. Find her published books at wendyclem.net or reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.