Westchester's Top Health Leaders 2012: Amy Mlodzianowski, LMSW

Forty percent of Americans will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives. Any wonder, then, that Gilda’s Club Westchester (GCW), a not-for-profit organization that offers support to those with cancer and their loved ones, is needed?

A good part of GCW’s success is owed to Program Director Amy Mlodzianowski, the woman responsible for the development, implementation, evaluation, and management of GCW’s social and educational programs. More than 3,000 people benefit from GCW’s services every year. But Mlodzianowski, 37, wants to help many more residents, so she recently began to bring the organization’s resources and insight into 25 schools, giving workshops and presentations to teachers and PTA organizations about how best to support their students affected by cancer. “Three out of four families in our area are impacted by cancer at some point,” she says, “and school is often the first place that people hear about a cancer diagnosis in a family.”

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Mlodzianowski also wants to provide more community outreach to underserved populations, such as support groups and informative talks in Yonkers, Port Chester, and Mount Vernon. She even wants to reach people who are in populations that might not be viewed as underserved. For instance, even though GCW is named after a woman (the beloved comedian and actress Gilda Radner, who died of ovarian cancer in 1989), it makes an effort to include men who are afflicted with or affected by cancer. “It’s harder for men to recognize the need for emotional and social support,” Mlodzianowski says. So she is helping more men by structuring GCW’s on-site, male-oriented programs. The idea is to have the programs that offer men an opportunity to exchange ideas and get educated about cancer rather than have to talk about their feelings. One of those programs, the Men’s Networking Group, lets men with any type of cancer connect with just guys. It’s facilitated by a male, which, says Mlodzianowski, makes everyone more apt to open up.

The director often tailors events to other specific populations—e.g. those in their 20s and 30s or people of color. Mlodzianowski helped form GCW’s monthly meetings for women of color, called Sistah’s Circle. The group was formed after participants in a GCW educational workshop said they’d really like something on a regular basis. “Women of color socialize, connect, talk about resources in the community, and address issues that are particularly related to women of color and being diagnosed with cancer,” she says.

Ultimately, though, she wants to be there for everyone who needs her. “I look at the number of people who have joined Gilda’s Club and say, ‘Well, think of the population of Westchester County,’ and I realize there are so many people who we can impact.”

Photo by John O’Donnell

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