Valley News -

By Jeff Pack
Writer 

Michelle's Place Cancer Resource Center celebrates close of escrow

 

Last updated 7/26/2019 at 2am

Shane Gibson photo

Michelle's Place Cancer Resource Center Executive Director Kim Gerrish, center, and Reality Rally founder Gillian Larson gather for a closing escrow signing celebration at the cancer resource center's new location in Temecula, July 16.

Michelle's Place Cancer Resource Center has officially found its new permanent home as the nonprofit organization recently closed escrow on a building three times the size of their old home.

That meant it was time to celebrate – and thank the community that helped the group raise almost $1 million in nine months to make it happen.

Before the official celebration party Tuesday, July 16, at the new location on Winchester Road in Temecula, Executive Director Kim Gerrish gave a tour of the new facility to the Pechanga Tribal Council and Pechanga Development Corporation officials – a group responsible for donating more than $350,000 to the fundraising effort.

After Gerrish led the group through the building that will feature dozens of rooms including a great room, library, conference room, office spaces, support group rooms, tranquility rooms for relaxation and reiki sessions, a children's room, full-size kitchen, private office and consultation spaces, conference rooms and more that is currently under construction, she talked about the impact Pechanga has had on the process.

"I knew Pechanga would want to be involved because it's the region's first cancer center, and they always want to have something to put their name behind that is impactful," Gerrish said. "They've always been a partner of ours; we've always worked well together, but this was big and I needed big support and I went to them and they gave."

Tribal Chairman Mark Maccaro and councilwoman Catalina Chacon had a surprise for Michelle's Place as well, announcing they had heard during a visit to the Governor's Cup 2019, a charity golf tournament in Pebble Beach, that Michelle's Place would be a beneficiary of monies raised on behalf of the Governor's Cup Foundation.

There was no indication of how much Michelle's Place would receive yet, but everyone in the room was excited.

Macarro said that a decision was made by the Pechanga Development Corporation to donate all the monies raised during the tribe's annual charity golf tournament and the tribal council vowed to match the money raised.

"The reason is pretty clear, pretty simple, cancer affects everybody, in any community, tribal communities included," he said. "We've all had people that have been touched by cancer, many of our families, we instantly recognized the need as well as the resources that Michelle's Place was putting out there into the community.

"If they could only get to a bigger place where all those things could be under one roof, if they could manifest that, that was something worthy of backing. That's why we engaged," Macarro said.

Macarro said he was impressed with the progress made on the building so far.

"To be in the midst of the construction gives a peek at what is going to be under one roof," he said. "It's amazing. First of all, the people that are here, together with the thoughtfulness of all the different needs for all the individuals going through cancer, as well as their families.

"It's amazing to see, we can't wait to see the finished product," he said.

For Chacon, having the council involved in helping the center raise the money it needed to expand was personal.

"I'm overwhelmed because my mom is a two-time breast cancer survivor," she said. "I do a lot of walks, wherever I can, my personal charities are always breast cancer-related.

"When I first heard about Michelle's Place and to see how this has grown, not just breast cancer but all the different cancers they are going to offer (support for), I don't think everyone has the resources they need and this is going to be so good for the city of Temecula and the surrounding cities and men and women that go through these type cancers.

"Sometimes, you just need somewhere to go and that's the biggest for me. I'm excited and it's great to see. To see something like this for our community is just amazing," Chacon said.

Gerrish said she is proud of her team, herself and the community for banding together to make it happen.

"It's my biggest accomplishment professionally for sure," Gerrish said. "We also knew the need was there. We'd already begun helping other cancer patients at the other center; we were at max capacity. We knew we needed a bigger space.

"Could we go into this community and raise enough money to buy a building? The community is super giving, they've always been supportive of Michelle's Place. If they couldn't write a check, they donated something. The majority of our construction costs have so far been donated by our community.

"We're just so grateful, I mean honestly so grateful for the support of our donors, supporters, the media, I mean every single business in this community that we reached out to said, 'How can I help and what do you need from us?'" Gerrish said.

Michelle's Place was created as a dying wish of Michelle Watson, a 26-year-old victim of breast cancer. As a Temecula resident, Watson was frustrated with the lack of local resources available to her while facing the challenges of cancer treatment.

She succumbed to her disease July 23, 2000.

On Tuesday, her mother and father, who founded the organization in her memory, were on hand to welcome guests into the new facility.

Michelle's mother, Marilyn Watson, was overwhelmed with emotion during the celebration and spent the afternoon thanking everyone who participated.

"Where do you begin when it's so outstanding," Watson said. "We are so overwhelmed that (Pechanga) feels that we have earned this and that they are supporting us so much and the community, really. It's not just for us because it is going to be reaching out to help so many people in our area. Without all of their support, we probably wouldn't be owning this building right now."

Watson recalled back to the start when they had a small, 250-square-foot office space on Los Alamos Road.

"We just wanted to be there for the people that came in and wanted to get help to listen to them, never dreaming of what a big event it would eventually become," she said. "She felt that it was very important for this area to have a place where people could come and they could feel at peace and warm and welcomed and be themselves.

"I feel like her dream's coming true," she said.

For more information on the Michelle's Place Expansion Project, visit http://www.michellesplace.org/expansion.

For help with a cancer-related issue, contact the group at (951) 699-5455 or [email protected] The new address is 41669 Winchester Road, Suite 101, in Temecula.

Jeff Pack can be reached by email at [email protected]

 

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