by Geraldine Gatehouse | December 21, 2011
As someone who has been a co-chair and part of the steering committee of Site’s Southern California chapter since 2007, I thought readers might be interested in the historical background and social responsibility goals of the award-winning Site Southern California Holiday Event. 

With its successful combination of interactive events, networking opportunities, high planner-to-supplier ratios, fund-raising, and significant charity component, the annual Southern California Holiday Event has garnered international recognition on numerous occasions, of which 2009 was the most recent. It has deservedly come to be known as the premier southern California networking event in the meetings, events, and incentive industry.

The idea behind the Holiday Event, which was started in 1999, was to help increase planner attendance at the chapter’s annual Christmas lunch. Board member Rich Wise, owner of San Diego-based Wise Incentives, came up with the idea to sell lunch tables to suppliers, with the proviso that 70 percent of the table guests be planners.
A social responsibility component—even before social responsibility became an established term—was developed, and co-chair Kathi Winters, president of Huntington Beach, CA-based Global Incentives, worked with a Tijuana, Mexico-based orphanage to be the designated charity for the event. Together, she and Wise welcomed 180 people to the Hilton La Jolla Torrey Pines that year. 

Children from the orphanage came and sang carols during the Site lunch. The dessert that year was holiday cookies that were decorated by the guests themselves. Approximately $29,000 was raised from the proceeds of a live auction, which was also spearheaded by Wise. 

Now in its 13th year, the Holiday Event has come a long way. Generous sponsors help underwrite the event in cash and in kind. This year, the event’s generous host hotel was the newly renovated La Costa Resort & Spa, about 35 miles north of San Diego and a property of KSL Resorts. The event, held Dec. 12-13, drew 700 registered attendees and many dedicated volunteers, who came together to participate in a variety of ways.

They helped generate the funds to support three local grassroots nonprofits that were chosen from 20 applicants as the 2011 Holiday Event’s designated charities. Since 2007, the Southern California chapter has been able to donate in excess of $90,000 each year from funds generated by the event.

Each charity is chosen from the three counties served by Site Southern California. My Stuff Bags, which provides bags stuffed with personal items for children in foster care, is based in Los Angeles. The Orange County Youth Commission (OCYC), incorporating the Santa Ana Boxing Club, helps youth get off the streets in troubled neighborhoods, learn the art of boxing, and receive homework help. The San Diego Brain Tumor Foundation, founded by Connie Reeves, president of incentive travel, meeting, and event planning company Connie Reeves & Co., and a member of the Holiday Event’s steering committee, helps brain tumor patients and their families by providing a wide range of services, including monthly support groups, rent or mortgage assistance, health insurance, transportation, and meals.

On Monday, Dec. 12, the golf tournament—the first event and always an attendee favorite—was unfortunately interrupted by heavy rain but still managed to offer enjoyment to the intrepid golfers who braved the weather. Each hole at La Costa Resort & Spa had a sponsor, and they were kept somewhat sheltered with last-minute pop-up tents.
Later that afternoon, the 2011 Lend-A-Hand community event was held for the benefit of the OCYC. 

Attendees from all sectors of the meetings, events, and incentive industry worked side by side to wrap over 400 soccer balls, produce handmade cards, and package gifts for the children to give to their mothers. “For some children, this is first time ever that they will be able to give their mothers a gift of any kind,” says Kate Gunn Medina, executive director of the nonprofit.

The receptions that evening provided a wide array of delicious food from La Costa Resort & Spa’s culinary team, as well as great entertainment and dancing. The popular Vendor Showcase at the welcome reception was supported by 39 sponsors and suppliers.

Equipped with Blingo cards and Mardi Gras beads, planners headed out to meet with suppliers and get their cards stickered. Completed cards were entered into a drawing with the chance to win a $250 cash prize. And an impressive showing and capping off the night, the planners headed for the dance floor at Club KSL!

That was a great lead-in for the following day’s activities, which included a silent auction and reception, live auction, and lunch. After breakfast, the silent auction opened, showcasing over 111 items with a total combined value of more than $108,000. For the first time, electronic devices were used for the bidding process and proved to be a big improvement over the previously used manual bidding sheets. The provider, IML, a global leader in interactive event technology, also included bidder invoices and valuable dollar breakdown summaries as part of its service.

The subsequent lunch—the jewel of the Holiday Event’s crown—welcomed representatives from the three charities to the stage. Site Southern California was also privileged and pleased to host Alejandro Verzoub, president of AV – Business & Communication, a full-service incentive and marketing company based in Buenos Aires, and the incoming 2012 Site International president. Alejandro spoke about Site, his ideas and his role as president in the upcoming year. Sponsor and donor recognition, announcement of the winner of the centerpiece prizes, the nine raffle winners, and the winning bidders of seven live auction packages closed out the event. 

After returning home to Buenos Aires, Alejandro was kind enough to share some his thoughts with me on his first-ever Holiday Event experience.

“I came invited to attend the Southern California Holiday Event, and I can say that I was totally impressed about the general performance of this great initiative. In our industry, we always base most of our efforts providing value through educational activities, so this event was a great exception. Charity, networking, and peer interaction were keys to building an unforgettable attendance. Special moments that I remember: the table center contest-full of great ideas and creativity, the silent auction well organized with fabulous packages from different regions of the world, the live auction was very fun and dynamic, providing expectation among all great contributors who purchased tickets.

Regarding the charities that were presented on stage, it was tough sometimes to listen to sad stories, but it was fantastic to see that with the collaboration of the industry circle, we can provide support and funds to help great causes.

That is why I belong to Site!! We always learn from our colleagues. By participating in these types of live events, we become more educated professionals, but, more importantly than that, I feel that we elevate our spirit to a higher level. Many thanks for this marvelous invitation, and I am happy to see that our association is in great hands in Southern California and in many other parts of the world, too!!”

Southern California is blessed with a strong community of event, meetings, and incentive professionals, and the regional Site chapter is vibrant and financially successful. We are fortunate to have a board, holiday event committee, and enthusiastic team of volunteers that are dedicated to the mission. Throughout the year, and especially in the last quarter, they have given their valuable time and expertise to create the consistent high-level quality for which the Holiday Event has come to be known. It feels, as Gabriel Haigazian, 2011 chapter president, commented to me afterward, “just like family.”

If you want to help and join our “family” in 2012, we would be happy to have you. In the meantime, please accept my best wishes for a very happy holiday and a cheerful, successful, and peaceful 2012.

Quote of the Month

The time is always right to do what is right. —Martin Luther King

Geraldine Gatehouse is an independent planner, speaker, and instructor with a passionate belief in the value and potential global impact of CSR. She is based in southern California, a member of Meeting Professionals International, a Site Classic 2012 committee member, a 2012 Site Southern California board advisor, and a member of the IMEX America team. She can be reached at [email protected], via her 

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