The Great Charity Challenge, presented by Fidelity Investments, returns to the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center on Saturday, Feb. 2 with gates opening to the public at 6 p.m.
Now in its 10th year, this popular event has already distributed more than $12 million to more than 230 nonprofits in Palm Beach County. The competitions begin at 6:30 p.m., and general admission, including parking, is free at 13500 South Shore Blvd. in Wellington.
Every year a new theme inspires unique and fun costumes for both horses and riders on each three-person team. The intention of this year’s theme of “We Are The World” is to promote unity among cultures from around the globe.
“Each team of riders was given the opportunity to select a country that they wish to represent,” Great Charity Challenge Executive Director Anne Caroline Valtin said. “From the USA, the UK all the way to Kenya, we are excited to see them celebrate these countries.”
The GCC competition merges the thrill of show jumping with community support at a family-friendly event. Riders ranging from Olympians to amateurs jump through the courses.
“The event is judged as a relay race. For every rail that falls, a set number of seconds are added to their score. The team of riders with the lowest score at the end of the night wins $150,000 for their randomly paired charity,” Valtin said.
The chosen nonprofits are all winners, with every participating team guaranteed to bring home at least $15,000. As the GCC has grown, the impact now reaches well beyond the organizations participating in the jumping competition.
“We will also be drawing several grants on Saturday, Feb. 2, ranging from $1,000 to $10,000. The Ziegler Family Foundation will also be awarding an additional $50,000 through the Grand Prix Society,” Valtin said.
This year, the planned $1 million purse will be exceeded as the GCC is on target to present $1.3 million in 2019. The event is about more than just the money. It brings together a community in dedication and support of each other.
“One of my favorite quotes of all times is by Margaret Mead,” Valtin said. “‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.’ This is exactly what we get to witness and experience through the Great Charity Challenge.”
Paige Bellissimo, who co-founded the event with her parents Mark and Katherine Bellissimo of Equestrian Sport Productions in 2010, sees the GCC as more than a one-day event.
“We don’t give to get,” Bellissimo said. “We give to inspire others to give.”
Aside from organizing for the big day, Valtin also works with the charities and sponsors long after the event ends.
“The truth is that all of it is my favorite — the work leading up to it, the amazing moment you realize it is all coming together,” Valtin said. “We hold a pre-party an hour before the start of the event where the sponsors, riders and their randomly paired charities get to meet for the first time. We have witnessed so many amazing moments. It truly does restore your faith in humanity.”
Guests at the event have plenty to do beyond watching the competitions. There are food vendors, a carousel and family activities including a petting zoo. In addition, spectators are not expected to remain seated during the entire event. They are free to walk around the facility throughout the evening.
Another mini-event taking place on site is the Ringside Chalk Art Festival. All 12 Wellington public schools receive a chalkboard and three hours to create an original work inspired by the evening’s theme. Every school participating in the exhibition is guaranteed a minimum $1,000 donation to its art program.
The 24 initial selected charities this year include: Back to Basics, the Boca West Children’s Foundation, the Children’s Home Society, the Christopher Aguirre Memorial Foundation, the Community Caring Center of Palm Beach County, the Cultural Council of Palm Beach County, Danny & Ron’s Rescue, Friends of Foster Children, Friends of Palm Beach, Genesis Assistance Dogs, Grandma’s Place, Habitat Housing Solutions, Holy Ground Shelter for Homeless, Hope 4 Mobility, Jeff Industries, the Kids Cancer Foundation, Our Sister’s Place, Philanthropy Tank, PROPEL Inc., the Quantum House, the South Florida Science Center & Aquarium, Speak Up for Kids of Palm Beach County, the Spirit of Giving Network and Wellington Cares. The Wellington Public Schools PTA/PTO/PTSA is included as an automatic participant each year.
Equestrian Sport Productions opens the PBIEC grounds for the event as part of its Saturday Night Lights program, which keeps overhead to a minimum. Therefore, the money raised by the GCC goes directly to work and right back into the community.
“When you truly look at the impact that one industry has had on the local community, pulling together one day per year to raise millions,” Valtin said. “We hope that other sports and venues will reciprocate this model and unite their communities.”
For those interested in volunteering at the event, contact Valtin via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.