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LaughFest prepares to build on past success

10:57 AM, Mar 5, 2012   |    comments
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2012 Laughfest

GRAND RAPIDS (WZZM) - If you're in need of smile, you can get a big dose of laughter pretty soon.

The second year of LaughFest kicks of this week with some of the biggest names in comedy heading to Grand Rapids.

WZZM will be bringing you stories about LaughFest all this week and next. First, we start out with a look at how last year's inaugural event helped Gilda's Club.

Gilda's Club President and CEO Leann Arkema says LaughFest generated $300,000, as 55,000 people from 25 states came through Grand Rapids to take part in the 10 days of festivities.

All of the money stayed right here to help cancer patients and their families deal with the struggles that the illness brings. The money raised was evenly distributed among Gilda's programs.

They include those for children, who spend their time downstairs in "Noogieland." Most children who walk through the doors are siblings of those with cancer, or have parents with the disease. There are also adult, inner city school, and community programs.

Arkema says funding for these programs was hit hard in 2008, when the economy nosedived.  Charitable donations dropped 35 percent. That's huge, since Gilda's Club relies soley on donations. But even as donations dropped, Arkema says the number of people using the services increased by 40 percent from 2008 to 2010. She says the awareness LaughFest generated increased attendance at Gilda's Club another 15-20 percent in the last year.

Arkema says that was no surprise. She recalls her favorite moment at last year's event.

"(A woman) was actually living with terminal cancer and has died since last LaughFest, and watching how that family embraced what we were doing and attended a number of things and still had a great time laughing and being together and enjoying those moments, even though they didn't know how many moments they had, that was a beautiful thing," she said. 

Arkema says LaughFest ended up generating 20 percent of last year's budget, which she says is helping Gilda's Club get back to its post-recession contribution levels.

But she says the need for what the club does is growing.
She says diagnosis rates for cancer are expected to increase exponentially in the next five years, as the population ages.


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