‘Champions of Hope’ fundraiser shines light on Crohn’s disease, colitis for second year

Committee co-chairs Debbie Hart, Susan von Posern and Laurel Smith at the inaugural “Champions of Hope” fundraiser last year.
Committee co-chairs Debbie Hart, Susan von Posern and Laurel Smith at the inaugural “Champions of Hope” fundraiser last year.
( / Courtesy photo)

Four Solana Beach residents are shining light on Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. An estimated 18,000 people in San Diego County have one of the two chronic and often debilitating digestive diseases.

As supporters of the Greater San Diego and Desert Area Chapter of the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America, locals Debbie Hart, Susan von Posern, Laura Rosenthal and Laurel Smith are organizing the second annual “Champions of Hope” awards dinner March 12 at the San Diego Central Library.

“We’re very excited,” Smith said. “The response has been great. Tickets are already sold out.”

An estimated 1.6 million American adults and children suffer from Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.

Both conditions can cause diarrhea, bleeding, cramps and fatigue. Many patients must take drugs, which have serious side effects, or undergo surgery to get some relief. No cure exists for either condition, both of which fall under the umbrella of inflammatory bowel diseases.

Von Posern, a local attorney, was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis when she was 14 years old. Her son was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease when he was 10.

“It affects everybody in different ways,” von Posern said. “For my child, it was a matter of not growing, which is scary for any child. For me, I can’t keep my temperature in a normal range. The disease is so particular to each patient.”

A Solana Beach resident since 1997, von Posern, serves as a board member and general counsel of the local chapter. She, Hart and Smith created the chapter’s “Champions of Hope” awards dinner last March.

“It was rewarding and a great time for all,” von Posern said.

“Everybody needs a mission and everybody should have a cause,” she added. “This is personal to me, of course, because it’s in my family. Now I have friends with this as well, because all of the fabulous people involved in this organization have become friends over the years.”

The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation is a national organization dedicated to funding research and providing support to patients. Launched in 1980, the local chapter holds a variety of fundraising events each year to benefit research and help patients and their families through educational forums, support groups and other services.

Last year, the chapter raised about $1.1 million for the cause. Of that, $110,000 came from the inaugural “Champions of Hope.” The event was so successful, tickets sold out for the fundraiser two months in advance this year.

“It’s nice to be able to help in any way I can,” said Smith, a native San Diegan who has lived in Solana Beach for 15 years. A friend and neighbor of von Posern’s, her niece also has Crohn’s disease.

“People suffer very quietly,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be silent. There are people out there to help.”

This year’s “Champions of Hope,” will recognize Dr. David Roseman with the Lifetime Achievement Award. A longtime La Jolla resident, Roseman helped launch the local chapter of the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation and served patients for 60 years before recently retiring from Scripps Health.

Other honorees include Dr. John Person of Sharp Rees-Stealy Healthcare, who will receive the Physician of the Year Award, and Rancho Santa Fe philanthropist Richard Helmstetter, who will receive the Rolf Benirschke Legacy Award. Named after the former San Diego Chargers player, Benirschke is also a Rancho Santa Fe resident who has battled ulcerative colitis.

“It’s important to recognize people and their efforts on making the world a better place,” said Carly Bazzett, executive director of the Greater San Diego and Desert Area Chapter, which serves San Diego and Riverside counties. “Our three honorees are outstanding members of our community and beyond.”

“Champions of Hope” will feature dinner, drinks, entertainment, and live and silent auctions. Although the event is sold out, anyone can donate to the cause or participate in the auction at

A total of 210 people are coming to this year’s event, up from last year’s 180 attendees. Event organizers aim to raise $150,000.

“I’m hoping the event will bring more exposure to what CCFA can offer those that are affected by this disease and more support so that we can continue to further the research,” Smith said. “The main thing is to make people aware so that we can continue to gather support and can continue to give support.”

For more about the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America or the local chapter, visit or