There is a remarkable support system for cancer patients here in North Central Washington and one of the cornerstone nonprofits serving the needs of patients and their families is Wellness Place.

Last Saturday night, supporters gathered at the Cashmere Riverside Center for the annual benefit gala and auction and it was an inspirational event.

It was a celebration of empathy and empowerment for patients and their families and the money raised will be used to create a “softer path” for those with cancer, in the words of Wellness Place Executive Director Erin Cass.

That sense of empathy for other human beings, “is the same quality that drives us to create a better world so that everyone may enjoy the indescribable beauty of life,” she told the audience.

The lead event sponsor was Prestige Senior Living at Colonial Vista and its executive, Aaron Lindholm, told the crowd about the ways the disease has impacted his family. Lindholm lost his father 20 years ago to cancer and more recently had both his mother-in-law and father-in-law succumb to the disease. He also has family members and friends who have cancer.

“But tonight isn’t about loss,” said Lindholm. “It’s about empowerment.” He echoed the words of legendary basketball coach Jim Valvano, who told supporters that cancer can take your body, but it can’t take your mind, or your soul.

From Lindholm’s office window on Okanogan Street, he often watches visitors to Wellness Place. “I see people go in there daily with heads down, walking slowly from their cars and Erin (Cass) and (program director) Mary (Brandt) are there to greet them and welcome them in,” Lindholm told the crowd. “It’s amazing to be partners with such a great organization.”

That personal connection with cancer was played out over and over again during the event. Cody Hodge, the incomparable auctioneer who works so many of nonprofit auctions and did so again on this night, is in the midst of his own battle with leukemia.

The founder of Wellness Place is retired Dr. Carl Kjobech, who had a vision that more needed to be done for cancer patients and their families when the organization was launched 15 years ago. He talked about the history and evolution of Wellness Place.

Because of the devastating impact of a cancer diagnoses, Wellness Place has evolved into a key support program that works closely with three other key local nonprofits — Our House, which provides free housing for patients from outlying areas undergoing radiation; EASE Cancer Foundation, which provides exercise and survivorship education that helps individuals enjoy fuller, more active lives, the American Cancer Society and Confluence Health, Kjobech noted.

The focus is all about serving the human needs of our neighbors who are going through cancer and supporting their families.

At the Wellness Place, that typically begins by being the first stop people make after a diagnosis. The staff and volunteers provide an aNottentive and caring presence to people who often come to them devastated and hurting.

The assistance extends to providing essentials to help them in their healing efforts, such as gas cards, wigs and anything else that will help people face their struggle with a greater measure of dignity. The assistance of Wellness Place is individualized and tailored for whomever shows up at the door.

What’s less well known about Wellness Place is their work helping aging adults remain active and engaged. Their SAIL (Stay Active and Independent for Life) provides terrific classes that help people stay active.

Board member Justin Harris, of Associates in Physical Therapy, talked about Wellness Place being a model statewide for its programs. A new program, called A Matter of Balance, is being implemented in the valley to provide training to reduce the chance of falling.

“Wellness Place is driving this movement of active, independent lifestyle through exercise classes,” said Harris.

Hanging around the Wellness Place staff, board and supporters is uplifting. The sense of contribution and purpose at that gala was truly something to behold. The event raised in excess of $35,000 and the donations are continuing to pour in from the community. That’s how much people care about cancer patients here in NCW.

Rufus Woods is the publisher emeritus of The World. He can be reached at 509-665-1162 or by email

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