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FEATURE

Washington's Top Benefits 2008

The Soccer Ball for D.C. Scores was held at the Organization for American States.

Photo: Paul Morigi

1. Knock Out Abuse and Fight Night Gala
This November fund-raiser is actually two parties: a cigar-and-boxing-fueled Fight Night, which raised $2.4 million for nonprofit Fight for Children in 2007, and the Knock Out Abuse gala, which raised $650,000 to combat domestic violence. Actor Chris Tucker and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia were among the 2,200 guests at the Washington Hilton and Towers for Fight Night, while a crowd of 750 flocked to the Ritz-Carlton, Washington, D.C., for the gala. Everyone then merged for an after-party at the Ritz. Liz Warnecki of Fight for Children coordinates Fight Night, while the gala is produced by Andre Wells. Both parties return on November 6.

2. The Opera Ball
French ambassador Pierre Vimont’s Kalorama residence played host to the Washington National Opera’s largest annual fund-raising event on June 6. Congressman Dennis Kucinich and Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff attended the Midsummer Night’s Dream-themed garden party, which featured 4,000 glass votives, five chandeliers hanging from a tree, and 15 lighting displays. Patti Humphrey, special events director for the Washington National Opera, planned the 500-person party.

3. YouthAIDS Benefit Gala
The November 2007 benefit for Population Services International’s education and prevention program attracted Bono, Ashley Judd, and Padma Lakshmi. The gala celebrated global ambassador Judd’s trip through India to film a National Geographic documentary, so the 700 guests at the Ritz-Carlton, Tysons Corner were treated to bhangra music, Indian cuisine, and a 30-foot-tall inflatable elephant. New York-based event designer David Tutera worked with YouthAIDS deputy director and gala event planner Marshall Stowell. The benefit, which raised more than $1.5 million for YouthAIDS, will return to the Ritz on October 3. 

4. Corcoran Ball
For its 53rd black-tie gala on April 18, the Corcoran Gallery of Art was outfitted with a theme inspired by the exhibition “The American Evolution: A History through Art.” Guests dined throughout the gallery in rooms with various motifs. The 1,200-guest ball benefits both the Corcoran and the College of Art + Design. The Corcoran women’s committee planned the ball with chair Nancy Smith, Occasions Caterers’ Eric Michaels, and floral designer Jack Lucky. The 2009 ball is slated for April 17. 

5. Best Buddies Ball
The October 18 fund-raiser at the home of Sargent and Eunice Kennedy Shriver in Potomac, Maryland, is expected to raise $3 million. Scott Tracy, vice president of special events at Best Buddies, produces the event, which will include a silent auction for items such as New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s Audi S8 car.

6. National Italian American Foundation Gala
Among the 3,000 guests at the nonprofit’s 33rd annual gala at the Washington Hilton were Rudy Giuliani, Nancy Pelosi, Susan Lucci, and Ellen Pompeo. Kristina M. Pappalardo, the organization’s manager of special projects and events, produces the event with NIAF chairman Dr. A. Kenneth Ciongoli. The gala will return this year on October 18.

7. The Leukemia Ball
The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society held its ball on March 29 in the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. The Roaring ’20s theme of “Ain’t We Got Fun” came complete with a live band and flapper hats, and featured a set from Jay Leno. Donna McKelvey, the society’s executive director, planned the event with Paige Bishop, chair of the operations and logistics committee, and Julie Hanson of Hanson Productions. The 2,500 guests helped raise $3.3 million. The 22nd annual Leukemia Ball is slated for March 21.

8. John F. Kennedy Center for the Arts Spring Benefit
The May 2008 benefit for the Kennedy Center paid tribute to “the Art of Film Music” with a performance hosted by Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese and music of the silver screen from the National Symphony Orchestra, conducted by composer John Williams. Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes were among the 1,250 guests at the benefit, which was produced by Kennedy Center director of special events Leslie Miller and will return on May 3.

9. Fight for Children’s School Night Benefit
After a three-year absence, this fund-raiser came back strong in April. With 800 guests and a performance by John Legend, the event raised $1.5 million for the nonprofit’s quality schools initiative. Held at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, the evening included the presentation of $100,000 grants to three District schools. Fight for Children event coordinator Libby Barton plans the benefit, while co-founder Sheila C. Johnson serves as chair.

10. Meridian Ball
Public diplomacy nonprofit the Meridian International Center throws this fund-raiser that brought in almost $900,000 in 2007. Event coordinator Leonor I. Chiarella, ball chair Isabel Ernst, and corporate chair Lisa Barry organized the October 26 event, which began with 34 separate dinners at diplomatic residences around Washington, before dessert at the Meridian House. The 40th annual ball will be held on October 28.

11. Washington National Opera Midwinter Gala
The opera’s decadent black-tie fund-raiser took place in February at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium. The “Taj Mahal by Moonlight” theme included sitar players, gold statues, and palatial decor. Opera special events director Patti Humphrey produced the 500-person gala with WNO women’s committee chairs Caroline Boutte and Kim Nettles. 

12. Prevent Cancer Foundation’s Annual Spring Gala
Each year, the event celebrates a different country: This year’s March 14 gala looked to Turkey, with some tables at the National Building Museum secluded in intimate 10-person Arabian tents. Event producer David Tutera planned the 800-person benefit with the foundation’s director of special events, Linda Chastain. The gala will return next year on March 19.

13. Gourmet Gala Benefiting St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital
For the 10th annual Gourmet Gala on February 5, the National Building Museum took on a Mardi Gras theme, with a feast from 50 high-end restaurants, including Kincaid’s, Hook, and Hank’s Oyster Bar. Donna Tschiffely, president of event management firm Conference Inc., and St. Jude’s senior regional event specialist Jeanie Torchio co-produce the annual gala, which has raised more than $1.5 million over the last 10 years and will return on February 24.

14. Washington Ballet Spring Gala
Inspired by the spring performance of Cinderella, the Washington Ballet’s annual gala outfitted the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium with a shimmery pink-and-gold design. Some 500 guests attended the April 25 party, which was produced by the ballet’s special events manager, Mary Alice Nay.

15. Larry King’s Cardiac Foundation Gala
The 20th gala, held on May 3, raised more than $1.2 million for the CNN host’s foundation. The “Auction to Live” gave guests a chance to buy a cardiac procedure for a patient. Produced by PR honcho Linda Roth, the 500-guest affair at the Ritz-Carlton, Washington, D.C., featured performances by Seal, illusionist Nathan Burton, and comedian Darrell Hammond. The black-tie event will return on March 29.

16. Heart of America Foundation’s Sweet Charity Benefit
This gala and fashion show benefits the Heart of America Foundation, which provides books to at-risk children. At the ninth annual event at the Mandarin Oriental hotel on May 5, models wore candy and chocolate gowns created by D.C. chefs. ABC 7’s Leon Harris hosted the 900-person affair, planned by Michelle Mobley, the foundation’s director of special projects.

17. Artrageous
The Smithsonian American Art Museum welcomed 500 guests to its third annual benefit on December 6, 2007. Held in the museum’s Robert and Arlene Kogod Courtyard and produced by Smithsonian Institute special events manager Emily Chamberlin, the arty party featured music from Blues Alley Jazz and catering by Design Cuisine. Artrageous will return on February 26.

18. March of Dimes Gourmet Gala
This April 1 event featured a competitive cook-off at the National Building Museum among 34 members of Congress and their spouses, with local chefs as judges. Texas Representative Randy Neugebauer and his wife, Dana, won for their Thai cowboy steak with peanut sauce. Planned by Leslie Hayes of PR firm Hayes and Associates and March of Dimes director of development Karoline Hurd, along with co-chairs Diane Nelson and Billie Gingrey, the gala raised more than $1 million for the March of Dimes.

19. Ambassadors Ball
Hosted by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, this gala honors Washington’s diplomatic corps. The September 19, 2007, event raised $800,000 and hosted 750 guests, including members of Congress and embassy types, at the Washington Hilton and Towers’ international ballroom. Produced by Nancy Landers, event manager for the Multiple Sclerosis Society, the 30th annual ball took place September 16.

20. Folger Shakespeare Library Gala
Inspired by Macbeth, the April 16 Folger gala was a “magical dinner of potions and delights,” featuring magician Richard Block, actors in 16th-century costumes, and “mystical colada” cocktails. Folger director of special events Caroline Bedinger produced the black-tie gala for 245 guests, which took place at the library and raised $325,000. The next gala will be April 22.

21. NFL Players Gala
For the fifth year, the National Football League Players Association partnered with The NFL Today host James Brown to honor some of the game’s greats with “JB Awards” and raise money for the Special Olympics. The April 4 event at the Washington Hilton drew 1,200 guests and honored Miami Dolphins legend Dan Marino with the Lifetime Achievement Award and Minnesota Vikings star Adrian Peterson as an “emerging leader.” NFL Players assistant vice president of special events Felice Jones coordinated the event, which raised $985,000.

22. Shakespeare Theatre Company Gala
The theater troupe moved into the Harman Center for the Arts in October 2007 and celebrated with an 800-person bash. The event, produced with co-chairs Beth Dozoretz and Samia Farouki and Carolyn Peachy of PR firm Campbell, Peachy & Associates, was followed by dinner and dancing at the National Building Museum. The group now plans to hold an annual gala in lieu of its Will Awards, with the next one on October 27.

23. Phillips Collection Annual Spring Gala
Some 400 guests had a chance to dine among the artwork in the Phillips Collection’s 11 galleries on April 4. Independent event planner Allison Signorelli designed a “Boater’s Ball” theme based on Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party from the museum’s holdings. The gala will return on May 15.

24. Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre Gala
The modern dance company performed at the Kennedy Center opera house on February 19. A colorful black-tie gala followed on the roof terrace, planned by Carolyn Peachy and Quay Whitlock, Alvin Ailey’s director of development and special events. The 10th annual party will take place February 3.

25. Muscular Dystrophy Association’s Heartsongs Gala
The February 23 Italian-themed event offered a piazza-style reception room with a grand fountain and an accordion player, food from Mama Lucia Restaurants, and a tap dance by Tony Danza. The 600 guests at the Marriott Wardman Park hotel raised $869,000 for the Greater Washington MDA. Nancy Shaffer of Bravo! Events by Design produced the event with MDA regional coordinator Angie Brennen. The gala will return on February 21.

26. Roast for Spina Bifida
Washington media and political types gathered in October 2007 to roast Bob Woodruff of ABC News and raised $500,000 for the Spina Bifida Association. Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert will be roasted at the upcoming November 14 event at the Washington Hilton.

27. Washington Performing Arts Society Gala
More than 600 guests filled the ballroom at the Marriott Wardman Park hotel on May 10 for the 39th annual benefit. Pianist Yuja Wang and the Children of the Gospel Choir entertained, while the decor mimicked a Mexican street fair, in reference to the night’s honorary patrons, Mexican Ambassador Arturo Sarukhan and his wife, Veronica Valencia-Sarukhan. Former WPSA director of special events Barbara Blauhut planned the gala with co-chairs Annie Totah and Carolyn Ross Winson.    

28. National Museum of Women in the Arts Spring Gala
The museum welcomed 500 guests to its great hall for the 26th annual spring gala on May 2. Chair Juliana May and co-chair M.A. Brickfield organized the event with Lori Brubaker, the museum’s director of special events. 

29. Capital Area Food Bank Blue Jeans Ball
This year’s April 8 benefit for the anti-hunger organization had all the trappings of a black-tie event, including fancy menus from 28 local chefs and a silent auction, but all 600 guests followed a strict jeans-only dress code. Jana Richardson, special events manager for the food bank, produces the ball, which will return in April.

30. American Red Cross Fire and Ice Ball
The local Red Cross chapter welcomed 600 guests to the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel for its April 5 event honoring the nation’s armed forces. Denise Daffron, the organization’s director of corporate and strategic relations, planned the event, which included an auction and a performance by the Armed Forces Color Team. The 2009 Fire and Ice Ball will be held at the Andrew W. Mellon auditorium on March 7. 

31. Soccer Ball for D.C. Scores
For its March 13 ball, D.C. Scores moved the event from the National Building Museum to the Organization of American States. Mauricio Fraga-Rosenfeld, owner of restaurant company Latin Concepts, designed the event with Jessica Gibson, the organization’s communications and marketing director. The Latin-themed evening, set in the building’s atrium and ballroom, featured food from Latin Concepts’ restaurants.

32. Washington Humane Society Bark Ball
Pets are the honored guests at this black-tie event, which hosted 400 canines and 600 people at the Renaissance Hotel on June 7. Humane Society director of marketing and communications Tara de Nicolas produced the event, and NBC News correspondent David Gregory served as chair.

33. Trust for the National Mall Luncheon
The newest yearly benefit to hit D.C., the luncheon took place on the Mall on May 8. Independent event planner Allison Signorelli, Trust president Caroline Cunningham, and event producer David Tutera transformed a corner of the Mall into a lush English garden. The 525 guests raised $500,000 to help revitalize the Mall. 

Correction: This story has been updated to correct the location of this year's Roast for Spina Bifida.


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