Great Charity Challenge To Give Away $1.5 Million

Superheroes have landed in Wellington and will be joining their equine friends as they soar over tall structures, race against time and bring smiles to spectators’ faces.

They’ve swooped in with their capes, masks and costumes to compete in this year’s Great Charity Challenge, presented by Fidelity Investments, at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center this Saturday night, Feb. 7, starting at 6 p.m.

Equestrian Sport Productions CEO Mark Bellissimo, co-founder of the Great Charity Challenge, was excited about the return of the popular pro-am event. “Our theme this year is superheroes, which is directed at the riders who donate their time, equestrian families and businesses who contribute funds, our staff who donate their time and, most importantly, the executive directors of these charities whose passion and commitment to their causes elevates and enhances the community,” Bellissimo said.

The pro-am riding teams are paired up with randomly chosen charities to compete in the relay-style event that benefits not only the dozens of participating charities, but also all the people helped by those charities, who in turn support the community, explained Anne Caroline Valtin, executive director of the Great Charity Challenge.

In the past five years, the Great Charity Challenge has supported more than 100 charities through more than $6.2 million in prize money.

This year’s participating charities are Adopt-A-Family of the Palm Beaches, Alzheimer’s Community Care, the American Association of Caregiving Youth, Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Palm Beach and Martin Counties, the Blue Sky Foundation, Breaking the Chains, the Christopher Aguirre Memorial Foundation, Communities in Schools, the Connor Moran Children’s Cancer Foundation, CROS Ministries, the Equestrian Aid Foundation, Families First of Palm Beach County, Family Promise of South Palm Beach County, the Faulk Center for Counseling/Elizabeth H. Faulk Foundation, First Care Women’s Clinic, Gratitude House, the Helping Hands Assistance Program, Horses Healing Hearts, Jeff Industries, the Kids Cancer Foundation, Leadership Palm Beach County, the National Wheelchair Sports Fund, the Oasis Compassion Agency, Paws 4 Liberty, Propel, Restoration Bridge International, Take Stock in Children, the Arc of the Glades, Urban Youth Impact, Village of Hope, the Wellington PTO/PTA/PTSA and the Wycliffe Charities Foundation. Two additional wild-card charities will be selected Saturday.

The prize money — and every single participating charity will receive some — varies from the top prize of $150,000 to the final prize of $15,000. Grants will also be given out randomly to help the superhero charities. All in all, there will be $1.5 million up for grabs.

Riders of all levels of prestige compete and give back during the Great Charity Challenge.

“It’s a great family-friendly event. The spirit of giving, to be able to see riders that are Olympic-level athletes giving their time back to the community, everybody leaves a winner that night,” Valtin said. “It’s just a great event showcasing the superheroes in our community.”

Raising awareness of the charities is a driving force behind the Great Charity Challenge.

“The GCC is a unique event that allows us to raise awareness of the diverse charitable organizations throughout the community,” co-founder Paige Bellissimo said. “One hundred percent of the funds are distributed to charities and put to work immediately. The event gives a ‘leg up’ to the many heroes who lead these deserving nonprofits. We are very grateful for our rider teams, sponsors and partners who support the effort.”

Bringing the focus to the charities, giving them coverage they might not otherwise have had, is something Valtin is especially thrilled about.

“We have an amazing group of charities that were drawn,” she said. “The big advantage of doing a random drawing is we really, truly get to showcase so many different organizations — whether they benefit children, adults or animals — we really get a wide range. We’re really excited.”

If past Great Charity Challenges have been any indication, Valtin expects somewhere between 5,000 and 6,000 people to come out to see the riders compete for their charities. “It’s kind of like Disneyland for horses,” Valtin said, describing the night.

There will be a carousel, a petting zoo, entertainment and several food options available on site at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center.

Riders, corporate sponsors and team sponsors are paired with each charity, as they vie for the top winnings. The crowds and competitors cheer each other on as they navigate the relay course to victory.

Meanwhile, all charities should be marking their calendars for the 2016 Great Charity Challenge. The opportunity to drop a card in the hat takes place from Oct. 1 through Nov. 15.

The Great Charity Challenge is a community-wide, family-friendly event featuring free general admission.

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ABOVE: Riders often decorate horses for the Great Charity Challenge in honor of the nonprofit they are riding for. Photo by Lexey Hall