The annual Great Charity Challenge team show jumping competition returned to the Winter Equestrian Festival on Feb. 5, distributing $1.7 million to charities throughout Palm Beach County, Florida.
Held at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center in Wellington, Florida, the GCC has become a highlight of the winter season, providing an annual evening of fun and costumes for a good cause. Since its inception 13 years ago, the event has raised and distributed $17.5 million to 292 nonprofit organizations in and around Wellington.
Determined to show the power of united communities, the GCC is a show jumping event that combines equestrian sports and philanthropy, including more than 50 Palm Beach County charities every year. Each team is made up of junior and amateur riders competing side-by-side with top professionals, including Olympians, and all teams are paired with randomly selected Palm Beach County charities.
In addition to the 33 charities that were represented in this year’s GCC team competition, sponsored by Fidelity Investments, an additional 40 nonprofits received funding through grants that were awarded leading up to the event. Thanks to many new sponsors in 2022, many charities benefited from exciting new initiatives like the Pet Parade and Costume Contest, which awarded $24,000 in grants, as well as the #BootsforBooks campaign, which will award at least $70,000 in grants to charities that will be announced Feb. 14.
“Seeing the resiliency our community has shown over the past two years has been both humbling and inspiring. While helping to meet the immediate needs of those in our community, these challenging times have also proven to us the importance of long-term sustainable change,” GCC co-founder Mark Bellissimo said. “Bringing everyone back in a bigger and better fashion not only brings our community even closer, but also sets up those organizations serving our community for long-term success.”
Many groups deserved thanks this year, including: The Ziegler Family Foundation, a significant supporter since their creation of the Grand Prix Society in 2016; The Doyle Family Foundation and their dedication to supporting volunteerism; The Postage Stamp Farm Foundation for encouraging a younger generation to find the fun in giving back; Artemis Farms and Swede Ventures for generously supporting the #BootsForBooks movement; Evergate Stables; and new this year, Francoise Rambach for changing the lives of many with the largest donation ever facilitated through the GCC.
“The fact that Equestrian Sport Productions and Global Equestrian Group cover all costs associated with the event makes the GCC quite unique,” GCC Executive Director Anne Caroline Valtin said. “One hundred percent of the funds raised go straight back to work in our community, creating long-term impact. We are extremely humbled by the level of support witnessed this year and simply can’t thank our donors and sponsors enough for joining forces in championing this community movement.”
To support this year’s theme and the #BootsForBooks campaign, participating riders were asked to dress themselves and their horses in costumes inspired by their favorite childhood stories. Enjoying a story book is a luxury many people take for granted, but the #BootsForBooks campaign helped raise at least $70,000 to be distributed to organizations supporting literacy-focused programming. The funds will directly place books into the hands of adults and children and provide them with the support to learn, read and grow.
Team “The Ugly Duckling,” comprised of juniors Caroline Mawhinney and Mia Albelo, partnered with professional show jumper Jessica Mendoza, won the GCC competition with a time of 93.779 seconds. Their strategy and teamwork paid off for Wellington PTA/PTO/PTSA, earning the top prize of $100,000 for the organization, which helps Wellington schools. A sliding scale for the balance of the prize money, down to 33rd place winning a minimum of $15,000, ensured that every nonprofit was a winner.
“I’d like to congratulate the young ladies on this winning team tonight and just say that it’s truly incredible to see young people striving to be on top of the world and help our charities that need it,” said Mike Sexton of Sexton Engineering, which sponsored team The Ugly Duckling, along with corporate sponsor Triple M Farm, and has been involved with the GCC since its inception. “The Great Charity Challenge has given Wellington and Palm Beach County insight to a world that most people never see, and it has allowed us corporations that work with charities to get to know so many more of them. It is a terrific event.”
The 17-year-old Albelo appreciated the opportunity to help the Wellington PTA/PTO/PTSA and be a part of the GCC.
“It’s incredible to combine your passion of riding and to do something good in the world and our local community,” she said. “To be able to help these charities and use our riding to have this incredible effect in the global community is incredible, and I am honored to have this opportunity.”
“The feeling is indescribable,” added Mawhinney, 16. “These organizations deserve it all, and I’m so grateful our team was able to raise that much money for our charity.”
“It’s an incredible cause, and it’s just amazing to be a part of it, especially with such a fun team,” Mendoza added.
Dressed as characters from “Peter Pan,” the team of Grace Debney, Alexa Elle Lignelli and Evan Coluccio, sponsored by The Lignelli Family and corporate sponsor La Victoria Farm, finished second and earned $90,000 for their charity, Friends of Palm Beach.
Thing 1, Thing 2 and The Cat in the Hat—better known as Lindsay Tomeu, Olivia Sweetnam and Shane Sweetnam—finished third to earn $80,000 for Friends of Foster Children. The team was sponsored by Spy Coast & Preston and corporate sponsors Merryburn Farm.
“Fidelity Investments is committed to making a difference in the communities where we work and live, and we were proud to be the presenting sponsor of the Winter Equestrian Festival and the 13th edition of the Great Charity Challenge. This important event distributed over $1.7 million to more than 50 charities in the Palm Beach community, which will help assist populations most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Dave Cvercko, Regional Head of Fidelity’s South-Central Investor Centers.
In the spirit of collaboration, United Way of Palm Beach County joined forces again with the GCC, enabling spectators near and far to donate to the event online for the first time.
Grant drawings and surprise bonuses also took place leading up to the event’s 13th edition. Thanks to the annual support of the Ziegler Family Foundation, five nonprofits were surprised with $10,000 grants. New this year, the GCC awarded three $2,500 grants to organizations who were GCC’s biggest cheerleaders on social media. Additionally, the team at GCC was so inspired by the many submissions for the Doyle Family Foundation Volunteer Initiative that it awarded three additional grants on their behalf. Lastly, thanks to the highly-coveted lottery drum and beloved supporters from all walks of life, non-profits were randomly awarded grants ranging from $1,000 to $7,000.
“Seeing how impactful a united community can be has been more than inspiring,” said GCC Event and Marketing Coordinator Kelly Arani. “It is an honor to be part of a movement with such generous donors who trust the GCC to direct their support to deserving organizations. Our dedicated charities, riders, and donors all have the same goal: empowering nonprofits. Seeing that goal become a reality on GCC night is just incredible.”
For more information on the Great Charity Challenge and complete lists of participating nonprofits and grants and donations made this year, visit www.GreatCharityChallenge.com. Event photos and fund use updates will be shared via the GCC’s Facebook page.