Our Executive Director’s leaving for lunch doesn’t usually spark so much nervous speculation and nervous energy from the staff. The old adage “while the cat’s away, the mice will play” doesn’t often apply at the Gerson Institute. We’ve all got too much work to do!
But May 16th was special. We were secretly preparing to celebrate Anita Wilson’s 10th as the Executive Director of the Gerson Institute. Those of you who know Anita probably know that she loves parties–and she adores surprises. So we on the Gerson Institute’s staff decided the perfect way to celebrate her leadership was with a surprise party.
We kept our heads down and worked all morning like it was any other day, but as soon as her car pulled out of the driveway, people sprung into action. The Institute’s staff, along with a few of our loyal volunteers and Charlotte and her daughter Margaret, all donned goofy hats and headed down to one of Anita’s favorite spots, Wild Willow Farm (home of the Charlotte Gerson Legacy Orchard) to set up for the party.
But, before we move on to the party, let me first tell you a little bit about Anita, and why we felt so moved to celebrate her.
“One wiser than me said, ‘We make our living by what we get – we make our lives by what we give.’ Gerson work certainly brings those two concepts together for me.” – Anita Wilson, upon accepting the position of Executive Director in 2003.
Anita hails from a small town in Indiana, and after graduating from high school, she went abroad to do volunteer work in Guatemala, Africa and Hawaii. Her first job was a Special Education teacher. After that, she worked in management in the community mental health movement in a large city. In 1997, Anita had her first introduction to the world of Gerson, when she was hired as the director of a short-lived Gerson clinic in Arizona in 1997. After the clinic closed, she went on to become the founding director of a state charter high school on a Navajo reservation.
In 2003, the Gerson Institute was in dire straights, and only two employees remained on staff. It seemed on the verge of closing its doors for good.
Anita was brought on as the new Executive Director to try to salvage the Institute, and through extraordinary feats of ingenuity and frugality, saved the Institute.
Beata Bishop (a recovered melanoma patient and author of A Time to Heal and co-author of Healing the Gerson Way), observed the qualities Anita possesses that enabled her to bring the Institute back from the brink:
“What I most admire in Anita is the seamless way in which she combines two very different qualities in her character: cool, steely, no-nonsense strength, and great warmth and sensitivity. The first quality worked wonders when she took over the running of the Institute ten years ago, at a time of chaos and confusion, and sorted things out remarkably fast. The second quality, genuine caring and openness to the needs of others, spiced with a great sense of humour, permeates her daily life.”
It’s pretty hard for us now to imagine that, just 10 years ago, the Institute consisted of just Anita and one other employee. Today, we have 22 full-time staff members, along with a few more part-time employees and over a dozen regular volunteers. Yet at the same time, public demand for information about the Gerson Therapy has grown so exponentially in those years that even now we struggle to keep up with the thousands of people who contact us every month in need of information about the Gerson Therapy.
Yet we trust that, with your support and Anita’s leadership, we will continue to expand and find new and innovative ways to meet the need of all the people who come to us for help.
Anita’s priority has always been service to all those seeking the assistance of the Gerson Institute.
Under Anita’s leadership over the past ten years, the following new programs and services have come to fruition:
- An Education Department, a seven-member team entirely devoted to assisting current and prospective patients seeking information about the Gerson Therapy. Together they answer 300 phone calls per day, and 500 emails per week.
- The Gerson Basics Workshop, which we hold three times a year
- The Gerson Basics Live Stream, an online version of the workshop that reaches an audience all over the world
- The Charlotte Gerson Health Restoration Center and its health and training programs
- Training and certifying Home Set-Up Trainers to provide non-medical in-home assistance
- A monthly intensive Gerson cooking and juicing classes
- An upgraded practitioner training program
- A Coaching Service which provides non-medical guidance to patients doing the Gerson Therapy from home
- A Gerson kitchen that provides a wide variety of training opportunities
- A volunteer program, with over 150 new volunteers each year
- Our free monthly ebulletin
- A patient follow-up program that contacts patients from the Gerson clinic for 5 years, to track their progress and provide additional support.
- A wide variety of educational materials about the Gerson Therapy
- Licensing of the Gerson Health Centre in Hungary
When asked about how Anita’s leadership has impacted the Gerson Institute and our own work as individuals, our staff and friends were effusive with praise.
Charlotte Gerson, founder of the Gerson Institute:
“She has a knack for performing miracles… and is highly productive. She has originated a number of new programs and training sessions for patient helpers and also for doctors, chiropractors and nurses to administer the Gerson Therapy all over the world. With her wonderful kindness and wry humor, Anita attracts the right people and has been able to hire enthusiastic talented helpers with a myriad of skills. It is impossible to imagine the organization without her.”
Blanca Ayala, Coaching and Training Specialist at the Gerson Institute:
“The Gerson Institute has grown and advanced so much, thanks to the great leadership of Anita Wilson. Those of us who know her can see what a dynamic and driven woman she is. Anita is strong, courageous, compassionate, honest and daring. It is no surprise that such kind of a person is loved by many, including me. ”
Faye Joseph, recovered patient and author of Silent Enemy, a memoir of her recovery:
“I embarked on the therapy in 1985 at the La Gloria hospital in Mexico. At the time, I feared the Therapy was destined to remain virtually unknown, its healing power available only to those who were fortunate enough to have learned about it through the experience of a friend. Since then, I have watched it grow and spread-especially these past ten years-into the vibrant organization it has become, which I could not have imagined all those years ago.”
Harrison Reid, Inventory/Internal Controls Specialist at the Gerson Institute:
“Anita Wilson is hands down of the most unique, extraordinary and kind women I have ever met. Since my first day of work here at the Gerson Institute, she has embraced me as if she had known me forever. Her outstanding accomplishments would be too long to even begin to list. She has a way with words like no other. It has been an absolute honor to work under the same roof as Anita Wilson.”
Anita’s lunch buddy, Candace, was of course in on the surprise. She drove Anita around for a bit, then suggested “just stopping by” Wild Willow to pick something up. Little did Anita know that, at the end of the dirt road that leads to the farm, 30 people were hiding behind a storage shed waiting for her, clad in silly hats and with kazoos at the ready.
The car rolled down the road and revealed the crowd of people awaiting her, and Anita emerged, alternating between tears and laughter as we got out our kazoos and serenaded her with an off-kilter rendition of “For She’s a Jolly Good Fellow.”
And yet there was another surprise in store. Anita spotted an oddly familiar man in the back of the group, clad in a baseball hat, plaid shirt and Gerson apron…
It was Charlotte, in disguise! She had come up with an idea to give Anita an extra shock, by dressing up in Brandon’s clothes and pretending to be his little brother “Charlie.”
We all shared lunch at the picnic tables, and afterwards we gathered around in a circle for a few words of love and appreciation (and a group hug!).
As you might remember, last year Anita had the brilliant idea to plant an orchard down at Wild Willow Farm for Charlotte’s 90th birthday, both to honor Charlotte’s legacy as an advocate for organic diet and agriculture, and as a way to help make organic produce more accessible and affordable in our local San Diego community.
While still young, a few of the trees are beginning to bear their first fruit. In the year since we planted Charlotte’s garden, there were still a few people here at the Institute who hadn’t been to Wild Willow Farm before and were thrilled to see our little orchard for the first time.
This year, volunteers finished constructing the entryway to the orchard, designed by local architect and sustainable housing advocate Candace Vanderhoff. It is made from upcycled mattress springs and reclaimed wood. The springs provide an ideal structure for vines to crawl up and wrap around, and we hope to someday see it covered in bountiful green vines.
We gave Anita a unique gift made by Mikhaela and Liz: a scrapbook that showed how much the Institute has progressed in the past ten years, with pages that marked major milestones as well as personalized messages and pages from us.
Amanda read Anita a beautiful poem about leadership by John O’Donohue, an Irish poet that they both greatly admire.
She put the poem into Anita’s scrapbook, for her to keep and reflect on–you can read it for yourself below!
O’Donohue’s “For the Leader” is a wonderful meditation on leadership and the qualities of those with the gift for effecting change. We at the Institute see this wisdom of this poem reflected so strongly in Anita and all that she does for Gerson.
Anita isn’t often in the spotlight, so many people don’t realize just how many of the Institute’s efforts and accomplishments are directly attributable to her work.
If you ask most people who leads the Gerson Institute, they would probably guess that it’s Charlotte. Yet, while Charlotte is still very much the emotional core of the Institute, and as our founder she holds a particularly special place in the hearts of all Gerson persons, it’s Anita that is the head of the organization. Charlotte remains an active member of the Gerson Institute’s Board of Directors, but she is not directly involved with the Institute’s day-to-day operations anymore. She has passed that torch to Anita, who has led the Gerson Institute for the past ten years.
Charlotte established the Gerson Institute’s legacy of hope and healing, and now it is Anita who is bringing us forward into the future.
The Gerson Institute has grown by leaps and bounds over the past 10 years, and it’s all thanks to one bright, passionate, creative woman: Anita!