Hello Neighbor: Teddi Horvitz Executive Director of Our Clubhouse
We’re excited to announce this series of occasional article titled “Hello Neighbor” which will serve as an introduction to folks you may see in and around the Strip District who help make the neighborhood special and that we feel you should know about.
Today we’re featuring Teddi Horvitz who is the Executive Director of Our Clubhouse. The mission of Our Clubhouse is to offer emotional and social support for those touched by cancer in Western PA. Teddi was previously the Director of Development under the leadership of Carol Lennon who retired at the end of 2015.
Feeling the need to give back Teddi began volunteering with Our Clubhouse in 2011 after surviving her own battle with breast cancer. She says the warm and welcoming Our Clubhouse (then Gilda’s Club) certainly felt like the right place and that it was somewhere she could truly make a difference.
We asked Teddi to tell us a bit about Our Clubhouse as many in the Strip might be somewhat familiar with their mission but might not know the whole story. She told us that first every program that they offer is free. Our Clubhouse is also not just for cancer patients or survivors but for family and caregivers as well and really for anyone whose lives have been touched by cancer. Programs range from support groups to health and wellness, cooking, yoga, and even art and expression classes. They offer meditation and other relaxation classes that help members deal with the stress of cancer and post cancer treatment. They even offer pediatric, family and youth support and their staff are all either licensed social workers or counselors who can help members find programs that will best help them.
We asked Teddi about her childhood memories of the Strip District and her internship in New York City with the NHL which included planning a night out in Pittsburgh during the 1997 Entry Draft that involved stops at both Metropol and Primanti’s read our full Q&A below.
Neighbors: Our Clubhouse offers free emotional and social support to those whose lives are affected by cancer. Tell us a bit about the types of support Our Clubhouse offers and how the programing works.
Teddi: First of all, everything at Our Clubhouse is free, including membership. We welcome people who are currently living with or are impacted by a cancer diagnosis. We offer wellness and education programs which include support groups, health and movement classes (healthy cooking, yoga, meditation, etc…), art and expression workshops, short-term one-on-one support and educational lectures on a variety of topics that are of interest to our members. We also have an entire Family and Youth program including a pediatric cancer group and a program for kids who have parents with cancer. To become a member, you need to come to a New Member Orientation and meet with our staff who are either licensed social workers or counselors, so they can help determine how we can best help you. Then you can begin to register for activities from our monthly calendar.
Neighbors: Cancer treatment and the other health issues that often accompany different types of cancers can be so taxing with specialists, hospitalizations, dealing with insurance and so on adding stress how does the support that Our Clubhouse offers help them cope with or reduce some of that stress?
Teddi: Great question. Our program is not mandatory. People come as often or as little as they want. But studies have shown that combining emotional and social support (also known as psycho-social support) with medical treatment improves the quality of life for people living with cancer or other chronic diseases. Also as reminder, what we provide isn’t just for the person with the diagnosis – about half of our members include family (including children) and friends of someone who has cancer. As for the stressors, Our Clubhouse offers a lot of great classes, such as meditation and yoga that give people the tools to deal with stress.
Neighbors: Formerly Gilda’s Club, in 2014 Our Clubhouse became an independent non-profit, was renamed Our Clubhouse, and announced a rededication to the core mission. Can you talk about the organization’s mission and any other changes that were made either at that time or that you’ll be making in the near future?
Teddi: As you said, in 2014, Gilda’s Club Western Pennsylvania became an independent non-profit and was renamed Our Clubhouse. Our mission has stayed the same: to create communities of support for everyone currently living with or affected by cancer – men, women, teens and children – along with their family and friends. Our decision to split was not an easy one. However, when the Cancer Support Community, who took over the financially challenged Gilda’s Club Worldwide organization in 2009, could not grant our requested amendments to our license – which included not requiring our members to participate in research studies, keeping the Gilda’s name in perpetuity and maintaining our 7 county service region – the board ultimately decided that becoming independent was in the best interest of our mission and our members. The only thing that has changed is our name, logo and colors. It is only because of our dedication to our mission that we made this change.
Neighbors: Nonprofit budgets are always tight and seem to only get tighter. If money were not a factor is there something or some things that you’d like to see Our Clubhouse do or offer?
Teddi: If money were no object… I’d like to see us add a whole wellness center as part of the clubhouse that would complement the social and emotional support that currently takes place. I’d also like to have a resource navigator who can help direct people to the plethora of resources that are available in our community.
Neighbors: You’re the new Executive Director but you were the Director of Development previously. Both of those are vital positions in a nonprofit but they’re also typically challenging roles. What was it initially that drew you to Our Clubhouse, and what is it that made you want to lead the organization as the new Executive Director?
Teddi: I started at Our Clubhouse in 2011 as a volunteer. After I faced my own challenges with breast cancer at the age of 36, I wanted to give back. I had moved back to Pittsburgh from New York City and it felt like it was the right time and this certainly felt like the right place. We hear from almost every person who walks through our doors for the first time the same sentiment: what a warm and welcoming place! I felt no differently. The previous executive director, Carol Lennon, and I hit it off right away and she reached out to me when the development job became available, about a year after I started volunteering. I knew it was going to be a challenge – fundraising always is – but I felt like this was an organization where I could truly make a difference and obviously this is a cause near and dear to my heart because both my mom and I are survivors. I am flattered that the board felt that I am the right person to lead this organization and afforded me the honor to be only its second Executive Director. It is a privilege to work with the amazingly dedicated staff and volunteers who keep this place running for our members; it is inspiring to come to work every day to see first-hand how Our Clubhouse makes a huge difference in people’s lives; and it is our courageous members that make me want lead an organization that does the work we do.
Neighbors: You’re originally from Pittsburgh. Can we assume you grew up visiting the Strip and can you share any fun or fond memories about the Strip from before your time at Our Clubhouse?
Teddi: I grew up in Squirrel Hill and ended up back in Squirrel Hill after living in New York City for 14 years. I do have fond memories of coming to the Strip with my mother to buy fish at Benkovitz Seafoods and walking the wooden floors of Penn Mac. My favorite memory, however, is when I was living and working in New York at the NHL and the 1997 Entry Draft was held in Pittsburgh (think Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Olli Jokinen) at the Civic Arena. I was an intern at the time but because I was from Pittsburgh, I was put in charge of planning a night on the town for all of the teams’ PR directors. That was a lot of pressure. We started at Mario’s/Blue Lou’s on the South Side and ended up at Metropol and of course there was a stop at Primantis. I was hired on full-time shortly thereafter so I guess the night was a success. But don’t ask me for any stories…what happened at Metropol… well, you know the rest.
Neighbors: In the past few years the Strip has begun to change quite a bit. Can you talk a bit about how that change is viewed at Our Clubhouse? Also about what sort of changes you might like to see that would help Our Clubhouse either in your mission or even to attract and retain employees? Too, are there any negatives that you’re experiencing as the Strip changes?
Teddi: All of the construction in the Strip is amazing. It’s happened so quickly. Because we are down on 28th Street and Smallman, we haven’t been too affected by the construction. We are excited to see the changes happening. For us, we hope that we can find volunteers from those moving to the Strip, both from new businesses and residents. In addition, we want to let as many people as possible know we are here and that we are a free resource for anyone touched by cancer – and let’s be honest, who hasn’t been? As you mentioned previously, non-profit budgets are tight so we don’t have advertising and marketing dollars. We mostly depend on word-of-mouth and referrals from oncology departments at hospitals. But if everybody who lives/will live or works in the Strip could tell just one person they know about us, it would be a tremendous help. We even have our own parking lot that is free to our members! Finally, since you asked, we’d also like to see more food options and/or a coffee shop closer to us.
Neighbors: Thank you so much for answering our questions, one last one before we go. As the new Executive Director and as the former Development Director you likely have it down pat so can you give us your elevator pitch for Our Clubhouse.
Teddi: Our Clubhouse is a welcoming community of support to anyone touched by cancer. We are a free resource to the tens of thousands of people in southwestern Pennsylvania impacted by cancer (we also now have a location in Greensburg). Finally, I think it’s important to note that every penny raised here, stays here.