Once upon a time, a group of women who were being treated for cancer decided to create a support group with a twist. Their focus would be on using healing arts—music, art, movement, writing, and the like—to alleviate anxiety among women cancer patients before, during, and after treatment. They called the group WINGS, shorthand for Women Inspiring Nurturing Giving Strength & Support, and every month they brought a different presenter to the Verona Community Center for a gathering free of charge to cancer patients.
Two years ago, WINGS should have celebrated its tenth anniversary. The pandemic had other plans, so now WINGS is marking what it calls “10+2,” with a gala on Friday, March 25. Former Verona residents Holly Denton and Diane Braschi were among the founders of WINGS and last week they sat down with several other board members to reflect on what the group has accomplished, and what lies ahead.
“Mind, body, spirit is so important,” says Lynn Ferrer, a co-founder who will be honored at the gala. In the beginning, Ferrer was working in the outpatient cancer center at Saint Barnabas (now the Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center) as a holistic nurse practitioner and running a workshop in Reiki, a Japanese energy healing technique. But even she is surprised at how many women have come to WINGS sessions over the years. “People want to be reassured, they want to feel that people care about them, that they’re not alone,” she says. “That is a gift we give, that no one has to be alone in walking this path.”
The group has a 300-person mailing list and regularly got 30 women or more at its monthly in-person meetings. It shifted to Zoom during the pandemic, and attendance only seems to have grown, both in numbers and geographic reach. Last month, WINGS had 44 women participate in a workshop on medical marijuana. “It’s been a little trickier on Zoom,” says Denton, “but the meetings are always interactive and they produce endorphins and they keep us in the present.”
Randi Jeddis, a founding member who is WINGS treasurer, says the group funded its first two years of programs “out of our back pockets and checkbooks.” Eventually, WINGS found its own angel in Maureen Milmoe, who with her husband John will also be honored at the gala. Milmoe’s powerhouse golf outings raised money to pay the presenters every month and allow some WINGS participants to spend a weekend at Mary’s Place By The Sea, a retreat for women cancer patients in Ocean Grove. It also funded the publication of “Let Me Walk The Journey With You: Healing Through The Chakras,” a collection of reflections by WINGS members that is given to all attendees free of charge.
WINGS’ reach has grown over the years and its founders have contemplated ways to grow it further, perhaps by opening a support group in a second location or expanding its “Day of Healing” into a full weekend. WINGS hopes to return to in-person meetings, but its leaders are mindful that they are dealing with women with compromised immune systems. (You can learn about upcoming programs here.)
“I still believe that this is what God wanted us to do,” says Ferrer. “And we’ll keep moving forward, always trying to reach as many women as we can, in a very positive and loving and caring way.”
Tickets for the WINGS gala are sold out, but you can support the group with a donation or an Amazon Smile designation.