BY LAUREN MIRO
Get ready to cheer on your favorite charities next week as they vie for their share of more than $1 million during the 2012 FTI Great Charity Challenge, presented by Fidelity Investments, on Friday, Feb. 17 at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center.
The biggest single charity event of the year, the Great Charity Challenge is pairing 32 Palm Beach County charities with a team of world-class and amateur riders who will compete for a slice of the prize.
“We’re excited about passing the million-dollar mark again this year,” Equestrian Sport Productions CEO Mark Bellissimo told the Town-Crier. “It’s going to be a fun event and an important fundraiser for these charities.”
The Great Charity Challenge began two years ago as a way for the equestrian community to give back to Palm Beach County, which many top riders call home for more than half the year.
In its two years, the event has given away more than $1.5 million, and it has a goal of giving away another $1.5 million this year alone.
More than 160 charities applied to take part, and 29 have since been drawn, giving them a place in the competition.
The charities chosen thus far include: the American Humane Association, the American Red Cross, Be A Star Foundation, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Palm Beach and Martin Counties, Big Dog Ranch Rescue, the Caridad Center, the Center for Family Services, Child and Family Connections, the Children’s Home Society of Florida, Greyhound Pets of America, the Gulfstream Goodwill Transition to Life Academy, the Hanley Center Foundation, Hospice of Palm Beach County, Jewish Adoption and Foster Care Options (JAFCO), Junior Achievement of the Palm Beaches & Treasure Coast, the Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, the Literacy Coalition of Palm Beach County, Loggerhead Marinelife Center, the Lupus Foundation of America-Southeast Florida Chapter, the Palm Healthcare Foundation, Place of Hope, the South Florida Science Museum, Susan G. Komen for the Cure South Florida, the Unicorn Children’s Foundation, the Vinceremos Therapeutic Riding Center, the Wellington Community Foundation, the Wellington PTA/PTO Group and Wheels for Kids.
The charities are paired with a team of world-class and amateur riders who compete over a course of fences in a relay race. The fastest time determines the winner. “It’s a family-oriented equestrian relay race led by Olympic-caliber athletes,” Bellissimo explained.
Each charity was randomly assigned a sponsor — a generous family or individual who donated money to make the event a reality. The sponsors have the chance to select the amateur riders who will compete for their charity, while the professional riders are selected at random.
Even if a charity wasn’t drawn, there’s another chance to make it in. Two more charities will be selected over the next week, with the final charity selected the night of the event in a wild-card draw, Bellissimo explained.
“We’re going to pick one of the charities that attends but wasn’t drawn, and they will be assigned a wild-card team,” he said. “It will be done in a random drawing and give them a chance to win.”
Even though the main event is set for Friday, charities are already battling for prize money online.
This year, fans can compete for their favorite charity by voting for them online in the $50,000 FTI Challenge. The top three fan favorite charities will win a portion of $50,000.
“It’s a chance for people’s top three favorite charities to get a $50,000 bonus the night of the event,” Bellissimo explained. “You go online and vote for your favorite, and the top three winners will take home $25,000, $15,000 or $10,000 for getting the top votes.”
You can cast a vote for your favorite charity once a day by visiting www.ftigreatcharitychallenge.com.
In addition to the competition, there will be plenty of family-fun activities. “There will be live entertainment with a carnival and activities for children and families,” Bellissimo said.
He encouraged everyone to come out, cheer on their favorite charity and support charities in Palm Beach County.
“It’s all about the spirit of giving,” Bellissimo said. “It’s not about one particular charity or cause; instead, it’s a celebration of all the great heroes in our community. It’s a chance to celebrate them and help them to continue to help those who need it most.”
The event is open to the public and is sure to be a night of fun, excitement and great competition. Gates open at 6 p.m. with the first horse on course at 7 p.m.
General admission tickets cost $20, and all proceeds will be divided among the charities. Tickets can be purchased by calling Anne Goyette at (561) 793-5867.