Palm Beach County cheered as equestrians and their mounts, representing local non-profit organizations, competed for a share of more than $1 million in prize money at the Great Charity Challenge presented by Fidelity Investments® (GCC) on Saturday, February 1. Held at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center (PBIEC), the GCC has become a highlight of the 12-week Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) and has distributed over $15.8 million to 256 local organizations in 11 years.

Determined to feature the power of united communities, the GCC is an exciting show jumping event that blends equestrian sports and philanthropy, bringing hope to 40 Palm Beach County charities this year.

With riders dressed up in costumes and horses adorned to match them, this year’s theme of “Broadway Musicals” payed recognition to the wisdom commonly found in these plays. From “You can change the world if you change your mind” (Kinky Boots) and “Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise!” (Les Misérables), to “If you stand for nothing Burr, what will you fall for?” (Hamilton), all who attended the event were inspired to foster the change they wish to see in their own backyards.

With February 1, 2020 marking National Freedom Day, PBIEC and the GCC joined forces with all 12 Wellington public schools through a special initiative to bring added awareness to the event’s theme and drive community involvement. Students from first through 12th grades were asked to demonstrate what opportunities freedom offers while incorporating recycled materials. The “Art Gallery” was proudly displayed at PBIEC showcasing inspiring creations of how everyday trash can actually be turned into creative treasures.

The winning team of riders: Jessica Mendoza riding Flashback VDS, Caroline Mewhinney aboard Ballerine de Revel, and first time GCC participant Ana Sofia Rodriguez on Carolina du Toultia Z, sponsored by team sponsor Van Kampen Foundation and corporate sponsor CGM Farms, came in the ring to the music of the Broadway musical “Chicago” and finished with a time of 94.912 seconds. Their strategy and teamwork paid off for Spirit of Giving Network, a local non-profit organization that creates alliances with nonprofit organizations by sharing resources and providing education to strengthen local communities through a variety of causes. They earned the top prize of $150,000. The sliding scale for the balance of the proceeds, down to 24th place, won a minimum of $15,000, ensuring that everyone was a winner.

“The Spirit of Giving is a collaborative non-profit, and we have 72 other non-profit members underneath us that benefit families and children, but we have a lot of variety too,” said Executive Director Lindy Harvey. “So, not only is this helping us, it’s helping 72 other members and thousands of local children. It’s a very big win for us.

“We all work so hard for our money and to get grants and donors, and this is an amazing event to be able to help with that, and it so much fun!” continued Harvey. “Next month, we will host our Community Spirit Race (March 7 and FAU Stadium) where we will help 34 non-profits raise money, so we’re going to put some of these winning toward supporting that.”

“This is our third year participating, and it’s such an amazing event that helps so many charities. It’s just so fabulous for our community,” said Susan Diener, Spirit of Giving Network board member. “This past year with some of the Great Charity Challenge funding from last year, we were able to implement a women’s room, which we were able to provide feminine clothing and products for women. Also, through our holiday gift drive, we try and provide meaningful gifts for over 6,000 children in the area.”

The three riders made up the top team of the night out of 24 pro-am combinations, paired with randomly selected Palm Beach County charities. Each team was made up of junior and amateur riders competing side-by-side with top professionals, including Olympians.

The winning team was decked from head to toe in Chicago-themed costumes, and gave the crowd something to cheer for when they took over the lead with only one team remaining in the order. They also won Spirit of Giving Network an additional $3,000 grant as the Best Costume Award winners.

“This is our third year participating, and we took a lot of time preparing our costumes and the horses,” said team captain Jessica Mendoza of Great Britain. “It’s amazing to go out there and win and especially to do it for charity. I train Caroline, and Caroline and Sofia are good friends, so we came all together and picked our fastest horses so we could win.”

“I’ve done this for two years prior, and it was amazing to represent a charity and of course win so we could donate a big fund for them and try to make their year,” said 14-year-old Mewhinney of Woodside, CA. “I think [the format] is really cool; you learn a lot by riding with professionals, and I think it really brings everyone together.”

Of her GCC team debut, 15-year-old Rodriguez, who hails from Guatemala noted, “I’m so excited for the charity and so happy for them and what we get to help them do. I feel so happy to get to ride in a night class and get to know this mare better.”

Coming in second place was the team Wellington Cares, sponsored by Green River Farm and corporate sponsor Havensafe Farm. The team consisted of family trio Daniel Kerins riding WKD Tokyo, Darragh Kerins aboard Ringwood Zedo, and Sarah Kerins on Lawfull Z, who were just a second and a half shy of the win in 96.429 seconds, earning $125,000 for their charity.

Vita Nova, Inc. finished third and won $100,000 with a time of 96.986 seconds. The team was made up of David Blake piloting Bella Donna, Carly Dvorkin riding Carlotta 168, and Madelyn Ruskin on Abazu BSM sponsored by Pine Hollow Farm and corporate sponsors Roenbaum PLLC.

“All of us with Fidelity Investments® here in Palm Beach County are delighted to be involved with the Winter Equestrian Festival and with the Great Charity Challenge, a wonderful event that helps so many charities in Palm Beach County,” said Heath Odom, Manager of Fidelity’s Investor Center in Palm Beach Gardens.

Great Charity Challenge co-founder Paige Bellissimo commented, “What an amazing evening, seeing first-hand the power of united communities. The objective of the event has truly grown with our focus set on not only giving non-profit organizations a financial ‘leg up,’ but also increasing their visibility and providing the opportunity for them to connect with each other to better serve the community. We are so grateful for the support of the event sponsors who make this possible!”

In the spirit of communities coming together, Great Charity Challenge partner and local digital agency Achieve awarded a Social Media Advertising Grant valued up to $18,000 to HomeSafe in their efforts to protect victims of child abuse and domestic violence. “It is thrilling to be a part of the GCC and see so many individuals come together to take significant action on behalf of local organizations,” said Managing Partner, Clay Williams. “We are honored to support such a deserving nonprofit”, remarked Director of Marketing, Erica Linguanti. “Our entire team can’t wait to start dreaming up unique campaigns to help further their important mission and reach new supporters in the community.”

In addition to the competition, the evening featured several grants and donations to further benefit locally based nonprofit organizations. Local representatives, including Commissioner Robert Weinroth, Commissioner Melissa McKinlay, Village of Wellington Mayor Anne Gerwig, Vice Mayor Michael Napoleone, Councilwoman Tanya Siskind, Councilman John McGovern, Councilman Michael Drahos, and sponsors, Carlene Ziegler of the Ziegler Family Foundation, Founder of the Grand Prix Society, Nikki Morley, Palm Beach County Community Relations Manager, Local Market Organization of Bank of America and members of Equestrian Sport Productions’ staff joined the festivities to award grants and randomly draw additional organizations.

“We are truly inspired by seeing key players come together to support change in this community,” concluded event co-founder Mark Bellissimo. “There are countless charities within Palm Beach County that work tirelessly to do just that; we are grateful to our amazing donors who give them access to additional funding and riders who donate their time to compete on their behalf. They share one common purpose: empowering local non-profit organizations to do what they do best.”