There's a new club in town – and everyone's invited to it.
Gilda's Club Newark opened its red door Tuesday, offering a warm and loving hangout for cancer patients and anyone affected by the illness.
Named after "Saturday Night Live" comedienne Gilda Radner, who died of ovarian cancer at age 42, Gilda's Club provides a comfortable environment where cancer patients and others can receive emotional and social support.
"We know that this population is diverse and underserved," said Joanna Bull, Radner's psychotherapist who co-founded Gilda's Club in 1995. "Our vision has been for many years to come to an inner-city area where this wrong could be righted."
The 4,000-sq. ft. club, located at 208 Lyons Ave. across from Newark Beth Israel Medical Center, is free and will officially open to all in October.
Now, there are 25 Gilda's Clubs, with about 25 more part of a network called Cancer Support Community across the nation. The club's Hackensack site is similar to the one in Newark.
Each club helps patients and their family and friends "live with cancer," Bull has said, by providing support and healing in addition to from medical treatment. Not only does each clubhouse serve as a comfortable refuge, it also offers a single program of group support, lectures, workshops, social activities and networking opportunities.
"This is the perfect place to go to to get support, to have a little sanctuary where you can come and vent," said Nereida Martin, a Newark resident who was diagnosed with advanced lymphoma one year ago. "Or, if you're like me and sometimes have multiple appointments at different times, between appointments you can come relax here."
Formerly an abandoned residence, the three-story home in the city's South Ward is now inviting, lined with colorful mums and a bright red fence. Renovations paid for by a $447,000 grant to Gilda's Club Northern New Jersey by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Inside the home, visitors can relax on plush sofas in one of many rooms upstairs or play piano in the airy first-floor common area. There is also a sun room, art rom, kitchen and "Noogieland" playroom for children, named after the "noogies" Bill Murray's character would give Radner's on "Saturday Night Live."
Tuesday's ribbon-cutting was not without Radner's signature sense of humor. When asked of the late actress' reaction to the new Newark clubhouse, Bull replied with a smile.
"She'd say, 'Cancer gave me a membership to an elite club I'd rather not belong to, but I'm sure glad this club is here,'" she said.