Valley News -

By Lynn Effinger
Special to Valley News 

Kim Gerrish is named Temecula Valley Citizen of the Year for good reason


Last updated 4/25/2019 at 11:13am

Courtesy photo

Kim Gerrish

Michelle's Place. It sounds like it could be a special ladies' boutique, perhaps a deliciously fancy ice cream or yogurt shop or another of the many other types of business establishments that conjure up images of fine lace, comfortable surroundings and beautiful people. That's sort of what my initial thoughts were when I first heard of Michelle's Place several years ago. It is so very much more, as I recently learned directly from Kim Gerrish, CEO of the cancer treatment and resource center.

I wanted to profile Gerrish for the Valley News, since she was named Citizen of the Year for 2018 by the Temecula Valley Chamber of Commerce at their annual Awards Gala held at Pechanga Resort Casino, Feb. 23. My time with Gerrish was not only enlightening, it was cathartic. It is no wonder that she was honored in this special way.

Michelle's Place was created as a dying wish of Michelle Watson. She was 26 years old and died of breast cancer. Breast cancer discovered at any age is frightening, but for such a young woman, it must have been nothing less than devastating. As a Temecula resident, Watson became frustrated with the lack of local resources available to her while facing the significant challenges of cancer treatment, Gerrish said.

During her difficult and courageous battle, she felt she would have benefited from a place where she could receive emotional comfort, a listening ear and an opportunity to talk with others who were surviving breast cancer and learning to cope with this insidious disease. This "place" would also provide the latest information regarding treatment options, coping strategies, up-to-date research and clinical developments so the affected person and their family can help with planning and be informed when making specific treatment decisions.

Sadly, she succumbed to her disease July 23, 2000. In the wake of her passing came a mission of service to make it easier for others touched by this unrelenting disease. Her parents, Bill and Marilyn Watson, other family members, friends and many within our great community came together and created a mission to serve the local community with a resource center in her memory so others would have an opportunity to get the help they need. That resource center is, of course, Michelle's Place.

It originally occupied a 600-square-foot facility, which recently relocated from an upgraded space of 3,200 square feet on Jefferson Avenue to a much, much larger facility boasting 10,000 square feet of space on Winchester Avenue.

Watson always shared her knowledge and experience of battling cancer in a positive, uplifting way. Although her journey on earth was cut short at the incredibly young age of 26, her vision of helping others with cancer was the inspiration to open Michelle's Place and assist those walking a similar path.

Today Michelle's Place provides over 10,000 free services each year, including support services, yoga classes, reiki, financial assistance and much more, to individuals and families impacted by cancer. In order to continue to provide these free programs and services to clients, Michelle's Place relies on the ongoing support of donors, grantors and fundraising efforts, such as their annual gala, a 5-kilometer walk and run, and an annual golf tournament. Donations allow Michelle's Place to continue to provide the necessary support to women, their families and many others impacted by cancer throughout the community.

After serving for several years in an important marketing role for the Temecula Wine Growers Association, Gerrish had an opportunity to interview for the CEO position at Michelle's Place. She described it as an arduous and time-consuming process that seemed quite detailed for a relatively new nonprofit organization. She nevertheless pursued the employment opportunity in earnest. Near the end of the process she was being interviewed by several individuals, including Marilyn Watson.

After Gerrish answered their questions, she became convinced that she hit it out of the park. Then, as she listened closely to Watson speak about her daughter, her beauty, compassion and lust for life, as well as her suffering, and pain, Gerrish saw not just a welling up of tears in Watson's eyes, but a steady stream of emotion pouring from them. Gerrish became so incredibly moved that she began to weep and practically begged to be allowed to join Michelle's Place. It was no longer a "job opportunity" to Garrish, it had become a calling.

Gerrish has served notably and nobly as CEO of Michelle's Place ever since she was subsequently granted the opportunity to do so. While I never had the gift of knowing Michelle Watson, I can only imagine how pleased she would be with what her family and friends, Kim, her staff and the community are doing to serve the special needs of cancer victims.


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