Over $1.7 Million Distributed At Great Charity Challenge

The winning team of riders — Caroline Mawhinney, Mia Albelo and Jessica Mendoza, sponsored by Sexton Engineering and Triple M Farms — celebrates with local school officials.

The Great Charity Challenge, sponsored by Fidelity Investments, welcomed back supporters and enthusiasts on Saturday, Feb. 5 to the Winter Equestrian Festival’s biggest night of philanthropy.

In whimsical fashion, 33 teams of equestrians and their mounts, representing local nonprofit organizations, took to the ring dressed as childhood storybook characters to compete for a share of more than $1.7 million in prize money. In the end, Wellington’s school children were the big winners, with the Wellington PTA/PTO/PTSA taking the top prize.

Held at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center in Wellington for the past 13 years, the GCC has become a highlight of the winter season and has distributed a stunning $17.5 million to 292 local nonprofit organizations.

It is an exciting show jumping event that combines equestrian sports and philanthropy, bringing hope to 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, with all teams paired with randomly selected Palm Beach County charities.

In addition to the 33 charities that were part of the GCC competition, an additional 40 nonprofits received funding through grants that were awarded leading up to the event. Thanks to many new sponsors in 2022, 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 on Feb. 14. For a full list of benefiting nonprofit organizations, visit www.greatcharitychallenge.com.

“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.”

The winning team of riders — Caroline Mawhinney, Mia Albelo and Jessica Mendoza, sponsored by Sexton Engineering and Triple M Farms — came in the ring representing “The Ugly Duckling” and finished with a time of 93.779 seconds. Their strategy and teamwork paid off for the Wellington PTA/PTO/PTSA, a local nonprofit organization that helps all schools in Wellington, earning them the top prize of $100,000.

Team sponsor Sexton Engineering has been involved with the Great Charity Challenge since its inception.

“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.

Coming in second place was the team for Friends of Palm Beach, sponsored by the Lignelli family and La Victoria Farm. The team consisted of Grace Debney, Alexa Elle Lignelli and Evan Coluccio, who were just over a second shy of the win in 94.885 seconds, earning $90,000 for their charity. Friends of Foster Children finished third and won $80,000 with a time of 95.075 seconds. The team was made up of Lindsay Tomeu, Olivia Sweetnam and Shane Sweetnam, sponsored by Spy Coast & Preston and Merryburn Farm.

“Fidelity Investments is committed to making a difference in the communities where we work and live, and we are proud to be the presenting sponsor of the Winter Equestrian Festival and the 13th edition of the Great Charity Challenge,” said Dave Cvercko, regional head of Fidelity’s South-Central Investor Centers. “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.”