As Kimberly Rocca approached 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. in Washington, D.C., her eyes lit up with excitement, as she saw a long-time dream of hers come to fruition. Rocca, a local event planner, was at the White House and she was about to help decorate the historic home for the holidays.
Rocca applied for the opportunity to decorate the White House in August. In October, she received news that she would be one of 80 volunteers (out of over 8,000 applicants) from across the U.S. selected to step into the doors of what has been the residence to every U.S. president since John Adams in 1800.
The grandeur of the people’s house, as she calls it, was a place she always aspired to help decorate one day.
“I remember watching an inauguration while I was still in college and I thought to myself ‘Who plans that and what are the logistics of that?’,” Rocca said. “It totally intrigued me and ever since then, I’ve wanted to do something in the White House.”
Rocca got her opportunity on Thanksgiving Day, as she hopped on a flight headed to the nation’s capital. She was part of a team of eight, including her mother, that spent three consecutive days in the White House from sun up to sundown, working alongside other volunteers to bring First Lady Melania Trump’s holiday design concepts to reality.
Rocca and her team were assigned to turn five main rooms — the Library, the Vermeil Room, the Diplomat Room, the Doctor’s Office and the China Room — into a theme of “America, the Beautiful.” The China Room, home to the White House collection of fine china dinnerware from each past presidential administration, was Rocca’s favorite room to decorate.
“My mom and I were the ones who got to decorate the tree for that room, which was set up like a kitchen, with a vintage fridge and gingerbread cookies and so it was all very nostalgic,” Rocca said. “The chair in that room in front of the fireplace was actually Franklin D. Roosevelt’s chair and that’s where he would read to his grandchildren ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.’ It really makes you appreciate our American history and those who have come before us.”
Rocca says the entire experience was a safe one, as everyone was tested for COVID beforehand, and wore masks, while maintaining proper social distancing throughout.
Rocca earned her degree in recreation administration, with an option in special events and tourism in 2013 from Fresno State and since then, has found success through her Central Valley-based event planning business, Kimberly Joy Events + Design. From concept to creation, Rocca specializes in the coordination, brand management and design of corporate events, social occasions and weddings.
She said the impact of COVID slowing down her business made it the perfect time to decorate the White House, as she more than likely would not have had the opportunity or time to do so in the past.
“We were slated for our biggest year yet in 2020,” Rocca said. “A lot of our events were either postponed or canceled, but being able to go to the White House gave me an opportunity to see something bigger than myself. It was definitely the bright light I needed this year.”
Rocca, a native of Fresno, chose to attend Fresno State specifically for its degree option in special events. From there, she embarked on invaluable internships that she said sparked her long-time success in the industry. Her internships included helping to coordinate events for places like Valley Children’s Healthcare to local nonprofit organizations.
To this day, she maintains close working relationships with nonprofits throughout the Valley. She says relationship-building and the importance of customer service are some of the key ingredients she learned from her time as a Bulldog, and it’s what led her to have the opportunities she has today — like decorating the very halls that Abraham Lincoln once walked.
Rocca says that no matter which side of the political spectrum you’re on, volunteering at the White House is a magical experience.
“It’s important to remember that this is the people’s house,” Rocca said. “And it was a humbling experience to be a volunteer working among such history.”