Deb Solan can hardly contain her excitement.
The executive director of the Robinson Memorial Hospital Foundation is busy planning for the hospital’s annual Jewel of Portage County Gala, a black-tie event that draws hospital supporters from around the region and has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in recent years.
Solan launched the gala fundraiser in 2006—a task hinted at in her job interview in 2001—at the Bertram Inn and Conference Center in Aurora, OH.
“I knew right off the bat there wasn’t really a feasible location in Portage County to host the size of event we wanted to have,” Solan said.
Despite skepticism from Bertram staff, the first gala seven years ago was large enough to occupy the big ballroom there with more than 350 people attending who helped raise $105,000 for the hospital.
Andrea Pettit, marketing and public relations coordinator for Robinson Memorial Hospital, said last year the foundation briefly considered moving the gala from Aurora to the Greystone Hall in downtown Akron.
“It’s a big issue for the foundation and the hospital to keep the gala in Portage,” Pettit said.
“The gala name is the ‘Jewel of Portage,’” Solan said. “How could we have it anywhere else?”
Solan said she hadn’t really considered moving the gala to downtown Kent until at last year’s gala when attendees started jokingly asking her about the idea.
“We’re excited to be a part of all the activity going on in downtown Kent,” she said.
Moving the October gala to Kent brings with it the opportunity for expansion.
Instead of one location, the gala will be held at three different downtown venues.
A “patron party” starts at 5 p.m. on Oct. 12 at Laziza restaurant in Acorn Alley that will give donors to the foundation a chance to listen to live latin music by AZjazz while sampling specialty desserts with access to a full-service bar.
The new Kent State University Hotel and Conference Center will host a reception starting at about 6 p.m. that will span the banquet center and conference center lobby.
The gala dinner, which will be prepared by the hotel kitchen, will start at 7:30 p.m. in a heated, outdoor tent that will be set up on Erie Street. Kent City Council agreed in July to close the street for the special event.
After dinner parties will start at about 9 p.m. in all three locations, and all three will feature full-service bars, desserts and music.
“Basically the idea is to move around,” Solan said.
“But it also gives people a chance to walk around downtown Kent and see all the new redevelopment,” Pettit said.
Foundation members are hopeful the three-venue gala will allow for growth in attendance to as many as 450 people—an expansion that would boost the level of monies raised. On average, 300 to 325 people have attended each year and raised $100,000.
Solan said they also are hopeful to involve some of downtown Kent’s corporate tenants. As an enticement, Ron Burbick of The Burbick Companies donated $25,000 to create a new sponsor level this year, golden grandeur, which guarantees sponsors at that level: 16 guest passes for the patron party at Laziza’s; two tables at the gala dinner; 16 raffle tickets and logo space on the event’s promotional literature.
Each year the money raised at the gala supports programs at the hospital. In past years, the money has supported nursing education, mammography and other programs.
This year, the money raised will support community health programs to be specifically determined after the gala.
Kent City Councilman Garret Ferrara, a past attendant of the gala, said moving the event to Kent is huge both for highlighting the redevelopment while adding some new excitement to the gala.
“I think the gala brings in so many non-Kent people that it will be a great way to expose them to what’s happening in downtown and what’s there,” Ferrara said.
“It is a big event,” he said. “I think it’s a smart move by the hospital administration and foundation to move it to different areas throughout the community since it is a county hospital.”