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Scarsdale Women Blown Away, Humbled by Honor

SCARSDALE, N.Y. – Two Scarsdale women who have found their lives entwined through a string of coincidences – some happy, some tragic – will share the spotlight March 15 when Gilda's Club Westchester honors them with the Red Door Award at its annual comedy gala at the Ritz-Carlton Westchester in White Plains.

The evening will feature Weekend Today's Jenna Wolfe as the emcee, and Mario Cantone – Charlotte's wedding planner from "Sex & The City" – as the evening's entertainment.

Wendy Kleinman and Jodi Shapiro have raised more than $100,000 in two years with a mah jongg event, and the money helped to fund free programs offered by Gilda's Club Westchester in White Plains for people living with cancer and their families and friends.

"I'm blown away. I'm so happy," Shapiro said Monday night. Said Kleinman, "I was shocked, humbled, honored."

Shapiro and Kleinman created their Mah Jongg Invitational event three years ago in honor of their mothers, who both lost their lives to cancer. That's just one of the coincidences. The women met in 2007 when their children were both 2 years old and in the same preschool.

They became friendly and discovered they grew up in neighboring towns in New Jersey – Shapiro in Manalapan, Kleinman in Marlboro. Then Kleinman's mother was diagnosed with cancer. Six months later, Shapiro said, her mom was diagnosed with cancer. The daughters dealt with their mothers' illnesses together. Kleinman's mom died seven months after her diagnosis at age 58. Shapiro's mom, 62, died a month later.

"Shortly after my mother passed away," Kleinman said, "a neighbor had a cocktail party to raise awareness for Gilda's Club. I had toyed with the idea of starting some sort of foundation to honor my mother, and I wanted to do a fundraiser, but I knew it had to have something to do with mah jongg. I didn't want to do a run or a walk. My mother wasn't interested in those things, but she loved mah jongg. And, after hearing all the things Gilda's Club does, I just felt, why recreate the wheel?"

She and Shapiro took the idea to Gilda's Club, and, despite warnings form the club that the event might start slowly, they drew more than 100 people and raised $60,000 that first year, Kleinman said.

Kleinman and Shapiro conceived the event as a way to bring experienced players together, but the response from people wanting to learn was surprising, Shapiro said. "Last year we had about 60 people learning, and the rest playing." She said the event drew about 250 people.

When they started the event, they expected an older crowd, but younger women began showing up to learn. "Since Wendy and I are younger, we got a lot of girls learning to play from our event," Shapiro said. They play at the Willow Ridge Country Club in Harrison or in private homes around the Scarsdale area.

The third annual Mah Jongg Invitational in memory of Sandi Schneider and Joan Blieberg will be held starting at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, May 30, at Willow Ridge. The event includes instruction, play and lunch. For more information contact Katie Hughes at (914) 644-8844, ext. 107, or khughes@gildasclubwestchester.org .

According to its website, the first Gilda's Club opened in 1995 in New York City in fulfillment of comedian Gilda Radner's dream to have an informal, welcoming place, like a clubhouse, where people living with cancer, their families and friends, might come together to laugh and cry, exchange information and experiences, find support and pass it on to others. Gilda's Club Westchester opened its signature red doors on Maple Avenue in White Plains in 2001. The Westchester clubhouse serves Westchester and Rockland Counties as well as Connecticut's Southern Fairfield.

"It's become part of our lives," Kleinman said of Gilda's Club. Kleinman has been on the committees for tennis and golf tournaments there as well. "I fully support their mission and what they do there."

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