This story originally appeared in the Press Enterprise, December 2021

Michelle’s Place Cancer Resource Center was founded to honor the dying wish of Michelle Watson, a 26-year-old victim of breast cancer. Watson envisioned a place where she could receive support from peers and where she could receive the latest information, coping strategies, and research. While such a place wasn’t available to Watson, her family, friends and the community created a center that mirrored her vision in her honor.

Two decades later, Michele’s Place has continued to grow, evolve and serve the community. In November, the organization held a gala honoring its 20th anniversary. The event took place in the parking lot of its newly expanded facility. Attendees celebrated the organization’s successes and toured the 10,000 square-foot expansion.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the organization transitioned to offering virtual programming and remained dedicated to connecting with clients. The organization’s five patient navigators called each client to assure them the organization is still available to assist them and to check on their needs. Michelle’s Place staff also delivered groceries to clients in need once a week at the beginning of the shutdown.

“All patients in treatment were suddenly quarantined and they were terrified,” the organization’s executive director Kim Gerrish said.  “The simple effort of making that call was huge because at the end of the day they just want to know they are not alone and for us that’s everything.”

The organization was also able to move forward with construction on its expansion without disrupting programming. This additional space now includes a fitting room, art room, and support group room. A third phase of construction will involve the addition of a laundry room, refurbishing a bathroom, and finishing the bathroom.

Michelle’s Place has up to 23 different classes and support groups taking place 28 times a month and is now able to fully utilize its space. While all support groups and some programming will continue to be offered virtually, the center is open to those who wish to attend in person. The expansion has also allowed the organization to try new and fun programming. The monthly crafts class has been especially well-received. In the last crafts class, attendees enjoyed crafting Christmas cards.

Recently, Michelle’s Place received a grant from the Seraphim Fund through the Inland Empire Community Foundation. The grant supported the organization’s Purple Ribbon Assistance Program which provides support and resources to women going through cancer treatment. Clients in the program receive grocery gift cards, backpacks with school supplies and Christmas gifts for their children, and a Thanksgiving meal for the family.

“We are here and here for all cancers,” Gerrish said. “We always need funds to continue what we do.”

In January, Michelle’s Place will be having a wellness kickoff. Wellness and nutrition resources are important to clients, according to Gerrish. Offerings will include sound baths, reiki, yoga, and tai chi which are taught by volunteers in the community. Utilizing the expanded space, the organization will be able to offer multiple classes at the same time.

Michelle’s Place continues to be busy with walk-in clients and newly diagnosed clients. The organization depends on volunteers and donations to provide its free services to clients. The community can also help by donating tangible items and grocery gift cards in any denomination. Individuals interested in donating can find a wish list on the organization’s website.

“Our resources are free and anyone and we are not defined by geography,” Gerrish said. “Anyone can call us if they need to talk and need support. We are really trying to live our vision that no one should face cancer alone.”

More information: https://michellesplace.org/ or 951-699-5455

Inland Empire Community Foundation has been working for over 80 years to strengthen Inland Southern California through philanthropy.

Photo: Survivors, thrivers and cancer patients at Michelle’s Place 20th Year Gala
Photo credit: DirtRocket photos courtesy of Michelle’s Place