Conejo Valley Guild Celebrates 40 Years of Service 4

Game Day Fundraiser Benefits Jonsson Cancer Center Foundation

Isa Brente-Shekter knows firsthand the devastation of losing loved ones to cancer. Her husband, father and two cousins died from the dreaded disease.

Brente-Shekter found her calling when, 14 years ago, her friend Margarita Horwitz introduced her to the Conejo Valley Guild, the local chapter of UCLA’s Jonsson Cancer Center Foundation. She wholeheartedly adopted its mission to provide financial support for cancer research and to educate the public about new therapies.

“It’s my passion to help raise funds so a cure can be found,” she says. “I don’t want anyone else to suffer.”

Now Brente-Shekter and Horwitz, both of Newbury Park, are co-presidents of the nonprofit and co-chairs of the upcoming fundraiser, the 16th annual Game Day, taking place Tuesday, April 25, at the North Ranch Country Club in Westlake Village.

They encourage already-established groups that play tabletop games, such as mahjong, bridge, pan and gin rummy, to register for the event, and they invite individual participants to sign up for bunco.

“Playing games you enjoy with people you like is a fun way to contribute to a good cause,” says Horwitz.

There also will be a buffet lunch, raffle of gift cards to stores and restaurants, and a boutique featuring vendors selling jewelry, women’s clothes and handbags. Twenty percent of the boutique sales will benefit the JCCF.

“It’s a good time to shop for Mother’s Day and graduation gifts,” says Brente-Shekter, who expects 200 people to attend and hopes to raise $12,000.

40 Years of Helping

Marking its 40th anniversary this year, the local guild was launched by six women, who held meetings at each other’s homes. The organization has since grown to 211 members with bi-monthly meetings at the Westlake Inn.

Madeline Bynder, who has close relatives affected by cancer and is herself a cancer survivor, joined the group more than two years ago and is on the Game Day planning committee.

“I enjoy being involved, not only because the mission is meaningful to me, but also I’ve met so many wonderful, dedicated people,” she says. “Volunteering gives me a sense of pride and accomplishment.”

Since its founding in 1977, the guild has raised more than $1.5 million. Proceeds benefit cancer research, including the Impact Grant and Seed Grant programs at UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, which is rated fifth nationwide in adult care in cancer by US News & World Report and is considered a world-class cancer research facility.

“Impact Grants support collaborations among faculty across campus,” says the UCLA foundation’s Executive Director Margaret Steele. “One of the advantages of research at a major university is the breadth of departments that can come together in a united interest.”

A recent Impact Grant funded the work of two biologists, a molecular immunologist and a biochemist who are exploring ways to disrupt the cell cycle that can lead to cancer, Steele says.

Seed Grants, on the other hand, provide start-up money to young researchers in the early stages of a project.

“Their ideas are so new, no other source of funding is available and yet these novel concepts can lead to tomorrow’s breakthrough,” she notes.

A Seed Grant, for example, is currently supporting a study to determine why some cancers respond to immunotherapy and others do not. This information, Steele explains, will lead to giving patients the “right treatment at the right time.”

The American Cancer Society estimates 1,688,780 new cancer cases will be diagnosed and 600,920 cancer deaths will occur in the United States this year.

The Conejo Valley Guild’s support is crucial, says Steele. “The guild’s efforts are both inspirational and impactful to the work at the JCCC. They help fund the next generation of researchers and the next generation of treatments. There’s nothing more important than that.”

Steele’s job has made a difference in her own life.

“Working at the UCLA/JCCF is my thank you to the universe,” she says. “I am the daughter and mother of cancer survivors. I’m blessed and lucky my family members are still with us, and I want to do my part to ensure other patients and families have the same happy ending.”

For more information about UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center and Jonsson Cancer Center Foundation visit For information about the Conejo Valley Guild, call 805.480.2492.