LaughFest for the Health of It

Engage with the West Michigan Woman Community!

You'll laugh, you'll cry (because you're laughing so hard), and you'll  boost your health–all in the name of Gilda's LaughFest. The second annual community-wide event is coming to Grand Rapids March 8-18, and Gilda's Club has assembled a cast of laugh-worthy events for the whole family.

"We hope to feature in those ten days a celebration of laughter for the health of it," says Leanne D. Arkema, president and CEO of Gilda's Club in Grand Rapids.

More improv, sketches, music theater, dance, children's events, and even pet showcases are being combined to create the funniest thing you'll experience all year. The Grand Rapids Chapter of Gilda's Club opened in 2001 in the name of the late Gilda Radner. Radner, a Detroit-born comedian, made a name for herself on Saturday Night Live in the 1970s. She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 1986, and died three years later.

"Before she died, she dreamed of places created across the country where people could come together and learn to laugh. At our heart, our core, the essence of who we are is really a program of being there for people on their cancer or grief journey, and being a place where they can get that laughter back," Leann says.

Gilda's Club in Grand Rapids has grown into programming a dozens of schools, two clubhouses and at inner city community centers. Laughter, Leann says, is proven to boost emotional health.

"At the base of what we are doing here, and part of why we put on LaughFest, is we believe in learning good emotional health care for when big things like cancer or grief happen in life," she says.

This year's line up will host 266 events, 107 ticketed and 159 free, which will take place in various locations in Grand Rapids, Lowell, and Holland.

Tickets and reservations are going fast, Leann says. To reserve seats to ticketed shows, go online to Ticket Master. To reserve a "Fast Pass" for one of the free events, stop by the LaughFest central office at the Grand Rapids Art Museum. Leann advices planning ahead for tickets as last year she said they had to turn guests away at 40 percent of the free shows.  

All money raised from the events will benefit Gilda's Club in Grand Rapids. Last year, LaughFest was attended by 55,000 people from twenty-five states and Canada and virtually every county in Michigan. More than $300,000 was raised.

"We think we hit on something really unique that really resonated with people," Leann says.

Click here to check out the events of LaughFest 2012.

Creating a community experience is key to Leann and the organizers at LaughFest. Although the money raised will benefit free programming at Gilda's Club locations in West Michigan, what is more important is the connectedness of the people attending the events and those who take advantage of the many resources provided by the club.

"We position (LaughFest) around five things: laughter, the community experience, collaboration, to boost the economy, then contributing to our mission," Leann says.

New this year will be many family activities as well as the RX Series during which keynote speaker Patch Adams will give a workshop and the role of laughter for good emotional health.

Visit the official LaughFest website to find out more about the event.

Written by: Erika Fifelski was born and raised in West Michigan, and after a brief stint on the sunrise side, she's home and loving it. Erika enjoys cooking, sewing, vacuuming, and discovering new ways to live sustainably and support local businesses.

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