Rancho Santa Fe residents chair Ronald McDonald House fundraiser


By Kristina Houck

Since 1980, Ronald McDonald House Charities of San Diego has provided a home away from home for families with critically ill or injured children being treated at local hospitals. Two Rancho Santa Fe residents are heading a fundraiser to support the organization’s efforts to help families in need.

“They have a big impact on our community,” said Fernanda Whitworth, co-chair of the fourth annual ROMP gala, which takes place Oct. 5 at a private residence in Rancho Santa Fe. “I feel like not everybody knows how important the Ronald McDonald House is for families in need.”

Every year, Ronald McDonald House Charities of San Diego has more than 5,000 resident guests. The ROMP gala helps fund the organization, which approximately 10,000 additional people visit each year for the first time, for meals, computer access and other essential supports close to the hospital.

A mother of two young children, Whitworth volunteered as a committee member for the benefit, but she was initially hesitant when asked to chair last year’s gala.

A week later, however, she had to take her then 2-year-old daughter to Rady Children’s Hospital. While they were waiting, they sat on a bench with a Ronald McDonald statue.

It was then that Whitworth recalled going home after visits with her mother when she was dying of cancer. Sitting in Rady Children’s Hospital, she began thinking about parents whose children are in the hospital. That’s when she decided to plan the gala.

“Most of the people at the event are fortunate to have their kids healthy and have resources,” said Whitworth, who has lived in Rancho Santa Fe for six years. “Other kids sometimes fall in the crack. We kind of forget about the rest of San Diego or California that’s not as fortunate as we are.”

Last year, more than 350 people attended the event and raised about $860,000. Organizers hope 400-450 attendees can help raise $1 million this year, Whitworth said.

“I was excited after last year’s event,” she said. “I thought, ‘I’m able to do this. I’m able to have an impact and pass the word to others so together we can support this organization.’”

Whitworth, along with Rancho Santa Fe resident Jennifer Gramins, is co-chairing this year’s gala, which a 30-member committee began planning in January. With “A Night at the Copacabana” theme, this year’s gala will feature gourmet dinner, a live and silent auction and celebrity entertainment.

“I’m really exited for this year,” Whitworth said. “I think it’s been easier and going to be even better than last year. We have almost the same committee and it’s wonderful.”

Known for his work on ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars,” Emmy-nominated choreographer, dancer and recording artist Mark Ballas will provide entertainment with his life band.

This year’s gala also features a live and silent auction with high-end prizes, including a private jet excursion to dine at the French Laundry in Napa Valley, a getaway for 30 people to a beachfront estate in Kona, Hawaii and an Indianapolis 500 experience.

Additionally, Hoehn Motors is sponsoring a 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA raffle. Raffle tickets cost $100 and are available until Oct. 4. A maximum of 4,000 tickets will be sold.

“Be the change you want to see in the world,” said Whitworth, as she quoted Mahatma Gandhi and encouraged community members to attend the gala.

“I think if everybody thinks like that, we can give a little bit of us,” Whitworth said. “I hope others will be there to support us and make this organization very solid.”

To attend the ROMP gala, purchase tickets to the Hoehn Motors Mercedes-Benz car raffle and help support Ronald McDonald House Charities of San Diego, visit