20/20 Spectacular: 74th annual Las Patronas Jewel Ball goes virtual

The 2020 Las Patronas Jewel Ball committee has transitioned the 74th annual Jewel Ball to a virtual event this year.

The Jewel Ball, a staple La Jolla summer event, is moving online for the first time in its 74-year history. The gala, themed “20/20 Spectacular,” is the culmination of a year’s worth of fundraising by local philanthropic group Las Patronas and will take place 7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 8, albeit virtually.

This year’s version will feature a live-streamed program of entertainment, messages from beneficiaries and a live auction, and will be free to watch.

Jewel Ball 2020 chair Shay Stephens said the event, which has only sustained one cancellation – due to rainout in 2013 – in 74 years, functions as a “celebration and thank you to all our supporters.”

When the current coronavirus pandemic prevented Las Patronas from holding its in-person Jewel Ball at the La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club as usual, Stephens said moving it online was a natural next step: “We couldn’t let [the restrictions on gatherings] stop us.”

Las Patronas, established in 1946, is comprised of 50 La Jolla women who work “to support nonprofits in the San Diego community by funding capital grants,” said president Kelly Kjos. Las Patronas awards hundreds of thousands of dollars annually to organizations in the areas of social services, health, education and cultural arts.

Though the Jewel Ball usually includes an auction, only a small fraction of Las Patronas revenue comes from the evening. This year, however, the organizers hope the auction brings in higher numbers, as the pandemic grounded the group’s fundraising efforts in the spring. “We hope it’ll be a larger part because of the disruption to the way we typically work,” Kjos said.

Kjos said fundraising is critical for Las Patronas now more than ever. “There will be so much need” later in the year, she said, when the group typically starts disbursing its funds. “So many nonprofits are doing great work right now, and we want to be able to have the funds to provide these grants.”

Kjos said two of the major beneficiaries, Serving Seniors and the Salvation Army, stand out as ones Las Patronas will try to fund as early as possible. “Both of those requests were for refrigerated trucks for food delivery,” Kjos said, “which clearly are so much more important now than they were in November” when the requests were made.

Las Patronas will also fund capital projects for seven other major beneficiaries: a van for transporting clients for Interfaith Community Services; a new roof for the La Jolla Community Center; a cargo van for the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego; a 3D Tomosynthesis Mammogram System for Scripps MD Anderson Cancer Center; a cardiograph machine for UC Veterinary Medical Center, San Diego; a truck to support projects for Urban Corps of San Diego County; and a video monitoring system for animals requiring medical attention for the Zoological Society of San Diego.

Support for funding Las Patronas’ projects has been one of the highlights throughout this year of unusual challenges. “The one thing that has really touched my heart is how supportive people have been,” Stephens said. “Our underwriters truly believe in what we do.”

Kjos agreed, saying the reassurance from the group’s supporters about their continued generosity “has been really amazing.”

Las Patronas Jewel Ball Chair Shay Stephens (left) and President Kelly Kjos.

Another highlight to emerge from this year’s planning process is, by offering the virtual program free to anyone, Las Patronas can reach more people. “The program that we’re going to do is for anyone who wants to join in,” Stephens. “We see that as an opportunity to get out to the community exactly who we are and what we do.”

“I am truly excited at the amount of exposure [we’ll get so] we can share our message,” Kjos said. “I’m really proud to share what we do. I don’t know that we get that opportunity through the Jewel Ball typically.”

Transitioning to an all-virtual event, however, is not without its challenges. “Las Patronas is a pretty well-oiled machine,” Kjos said, with binders passed from one year to the next to aid in planning the Jewel Ball. “This year, the binders are not useful at all.”

Stephens said another obstacle was the lack of clarity in jobs, with many well-established roles “pivoting in some ways.” She said there was much shifting around of jobs and tasks during the planning process.

The toughest component for both was the limited communication. Most of the Jewel Ball planning and décor creation is done each year at a Las Patronas warehouse. “You don’t realize how much we communicate and organize and plan [in person],” Kjos said. “Not having those opportunities to communicate has been more challenging. We do what we can through Zoom.”

But, Stephens said, “It’s just hard. We are a tight organization; we meet often. Not having that time has been the biggest hurdle.”

Nonetheless, Kjos and Stephens maintain the Jewel Ball will be the spectacular it has always been. “We wish we were in ball gowns at the La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club,” Stephens said, “but this should be a fun program. We’re excited; we hope a lot of people tune in.”

The virtual Jewel Ball is free to attend. Participants can opt to pay the usual $650 ticket price, however, which includes a catered meal prepared and delivered to supporters’ homes as well as a “special gift,” Kjos said. For $250, a ticket holder will receive the gift including champagne for a toast during the event, delivered by a Las Patronas member the day of the event.

The unused decorations made before the Jewel Ball will be available for purchase online after the event, as usual. “We try to make every single dollar count,” Stephens said.

“We hope people can toast to Las Patronas and all the good we do in the community,” Kjos said. “Please join us.”

The Las Patronas Jewel Ball, “20/20 Spectacular,” begins 7 p.m. Saturday, August 8 with entertainment and live auction. A separate silent auction will open online a week before the event, closing August 9. Learn more at◆