For nearly a decade, Mary’s Place by the Sea has been a sanctuary for women with cancer. Thousands of patients from across the United States, as well as other parts of the globe, have traveled to Ocean Grove, NJ, to get away from it all―work, home, and treatment―to take a breather and focus on their own healing.
Offering a reprieve for women with cancer, co-founders Michele Gannon and Maria McKeon provide free accommodations and plant-based meals at Mary’s Place by the Sea, along with integrative services such as gentle yoga, meditation, oncology massage, and Reiki. Mary’s Place incorporates music into all of these sessions to create a much-needed tranquil environment for its guests.
Ms. Gannon particularly believes that music plays a significant role in the healing process, and it has always been a part of Mary’s Place’s journey. As a matter of fact, the first ever fundraising event for the organization was a concert held at the Paramount Theatre in Asbury Park, NJ.
Nine years later, the co-founders of this holistic, nonclinical cancer care home returned to the Paramount Theatre for yet another benefit concert for Mary’s Place, this time fronted by Grammy Award winner Sarah McLachlan. With special guest and fellow Grammy Award winner Patty Griffin, An Intimate Evening with Sarah McLachlan sold out months ahead of the event.
Sarah McLachlan is a champion of charitable causes. Over the years, she has lent her voice to raise awareness and funds for different organizations, such as the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The Canadian songbird herself has launched initiatives like the Lilith Fair, a traveling music festival, which raised $10 million for charity in the span of 3 years, and the Sarah McLachlan School of Music, which offers free music programs to at-risk and underserved Vancouver youth.
In this interview, Ms. Gannon talks about the benefit concert, her team’s experience in putting it together, as well as working with, not one, but 2 Grammy Award winners.
CONQUER: What inspired you to hold the benefit concert, An Intimate Evening with Sarah McLachlan, for Mary’s Place by the Sea?
Michele Gannon: We started our mission 9 years ago and our debut fundraiser was a concert at the Paramount Theatre. We invited our friends and family, and 800 people were in attendance! Music has a way of connecting people through emotions, and we were thrilled to have another opportunity to raise funds with a concert.
C: Congratulations on the sold-out event! Having 2 Grammy Award winners as performers certainly helped. Did you expect the concert to be this successful?
MG: When we were in the planning stages, we prepared a timeline of media to hopefully boost ticket sales; however, the tickets went on sale in April and sold out 90% within 3 weeks!
C: Why did you choose Sarah McLachlan and Patty Griffin for this benefit concert? Is there something about their music that you find impactful, especially for women going through tough times?
MG: Sarah McLachlan really chose us; however, both artists have been affected by cancer and we knew that they would understand, as women, our mission and vision.
C: Were Sarah McLachlan and Patty Griffin familiar with Mary’s Place by the Sea prior to setting up the benefit concert? What do you think drew the artists’ interest?
MG: They had both watched our promo video, but I don’t think they truly understood the depth of our mission until they visited our home the day of the concert. I believe they were both visibly moved as they were able to meet and interact with our guests, toured each room in the house, and felt the emotional, sacred space that is Mary’s Place by the Sea. Patty shared that she just finished her treatment for breast cancer and Sarah shared that she lost her mother, father, and brother to the disease. The tour was quite emotional with each person.
C: How was it like working with the 2 artists? Did the visitors at Mary’s Place by the Sea get the chance to interact with them as well?
MG: Sarah and Patty were gracious and humble women. They chatted with the guests and volunteers in the house during the tour, and we were so impressed how present they were with each of us.
C: Do you incorporate music into your integrative programs at Mary’s Place by the Sea? How does music play a role in one’s healing process?
MG: YES! We love music and the emotions it evokes. We have a sound system that is built into each area of our home and music is playing at all times. Usually we play spa-like music to create a quiet and serene environment; however, there are times that our team needs to shake out the emotions, and when there are no guests in the house, we will turn the music up very loud and dance throughout the house.
C: Have you particularly used the music of Sarah McLachlan and Patty Griffin?
MG: Most of us at Mary’s Place are in the generation where their music was a big part of our lives. We have been playing their songs in our office for the past few months and sharing memories of what a particular song meant to us. Music is so powerful. During the house tour with Sarah McLachlan, one of our guests shared with Sarah how she listened to her during her chemotherapy treatments and it comforted her. Sarah was quite emotional during this story.
C: How does this event benefit Mary’s Place by the Sea, particularly the women who take refuge at the center?
MG: The proceeds from the concert will directly benefit our guests of Mary’s Place by the Sea. Our program is at NO COST to our guests, and we work very hard to sustain that.
C: Have you had other benefit concerts in the past? If so, how long have you been holding these events for Mary’s Place by the Sea?
MG: We launched our mission in 2009 with a benefit concert! We live in an area with iconic venues and home to countless musicians. Concerts have a way of bringing people together to celebrate life! In 2015 Bon Jovi organized the Hope concert at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank, NJ. Having Sarah McLachlan perform for us and spend so much time at Mary’s Place with our guests has truly been a pivotal moment for our mission.
C: Do you have more benefit concerts planned in the future?
MG: Nothing planned yet…we will keep you posted!
C: Which artist/s would you love to see perform for the benefit of Mary’s Place by the Sea? Why?
MG: It will be hard to top the performance of Sarah McLachlan, but we will work hard to create an annual event moving forward. Of course, we would love to have high-profile national performers as we continue to spread awareness of our mission. We would love to work with Bruce Springsteen as he is the epitome of the Jersey Shore. We are open to anyone who can connect with our mission and our movement to spread kindness and love throughout the country!
C: How can the public be notified of your events and other initiatives?
MG: We have a great team who keeps up with our social channels, website, and e-blasts. When we have good news…we love to share!
C: How can CONQUER: the patient voice’s readers help Mary’s Place by the Sea?
MG: We are extremely grateful to CONQUER for spreading our mission. The article published in the February issue reached a multitude of women who had never heard of us! We believe that Mary’s Place is a prototype for what the future of healthcare needs to be. By supporting patients’ mind, body, and soul the medical treatment is more effective. How do I know? Because we listen to our guests each and every day, and they are grateful. Our vision is to create more homes throughout the world…it ignites a community and it gives hope to those living in “quiet desperation.”
The services that Mary’s Place by the Sea provides are at ZERO cost to its visitors. Its operation is solely reliant on the financial contributions of individual donors, corporate organizations, and fundraising events. Please consider making a small donation.
See photos of Sarah McLachlan at Mary’s Place by the Sea and Paramount Theatre on our Facebook page!