At 7:00 pm on January 27th, Belle Herbe Farm was alive with fervent energy, glowing under an enchanting sky of blue and purple hues. Horses peered inquisitively out of their stall windows as the Wellington community began arriving dressed in long gowns and sharp suits instead of their usual breeches and tall boots. To welcome guests to the venue, Tom Blake strummed his acoustic guitar and serenaded their arrival onto the blue carpet.
A walk through the tunnel offered a moving glimpse into 20 years of action and the evolution of JustWorld’s now thriving projects with a timeline of photos and stories. Striding into the tent is when the world truly opened up, bringing four nations together under one roof. Everything from the food to the decor paid tribute to the JustWorld project sites in Cambodia, Guatemala, Honduras and the United States, highlighting the success of those who deserve recognition the most—the nearly 10,000 children who are supported by JustWorld.
The occasion is something which equestrians know to look forward to each Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) season, but this year was special. Presented by Caryl Philips and Frank Zeiss, the 20th Annual JustWorld Gala marked two decades of action, growth and the devotion of countless individuals from far and wide.
After plating the flavors of the world, guests sat down to a dinner presentation which kicked off with an awards ceremony. Emcee Steve Wilde called out the names of longtime JustWorld activists like Jessica & Maria Newman and Hector Cano, along with horse show partners such as Thunderbird Show Park and Traverse City Horse Shows.
In a great gesture of appreciation, 16 passionate members of the Youth Ambassador Gala Committee (YAGC) received awards for their substantial involvement in the organization. The YAGC recently helped to raise more than $30,000 for the End of Year Fundraiser in support of the Storybook Treasures program in Belle Glade, Florida.
Finally, the honored guests stepped on stage. The five project leaders each took turns at the podium addressing the crowd to share the impact first hand and express their gratitude for the many years of cooperation in breaking the cycle of poverty in their communities. Project leaders included the Principal of Pioneer Park Elementary in Belle Glade Florida, Dr. Sandra L. Moreau; Denise Corbo of Storybook Treasures; CNN Hero and World’s Children’s Prize recipient Phymean Noun of Cambodia’s People Improvement Organization (PIO); CNN Hero Juan Pablo Romero Fuentes of El Patojismo in Guatemala; and Sandra Yadira Sauceda Tercero of Honduras’s Asociación Compartir.
“At Asociación Compartir, with the support of JustWorld, we are able to help more than 3,000 boys and girls each year. They have access to books, nutritious snacks, recreational equipment, and are learning and developing their artistic skills through music,” expressed Yadira Sauceda Tercero.
“With the continuous support of JustWorld, we would like to expand to a new region where our educational model can and is working.”
The emotional moment was 20 years in the making, yet for all involved the intentions moving forward are even greater. The Gala is the year’s keystone fundraising effort, securing a large part of the donations needed to support education, healthcare and nutrition interventions across these communities.The Gala’s success means that children will have access to these vital resources for another year.
“We are humbled by the incredible outpouring of support from the equestrian community and grateful for the unwavering dedication of each and every sponsor, donor and Ambassador who have helped make JustWorld a thriving non-profit organization over the last 20 years,” said Executive Director Eszter Kiss.
“With the success of the 20th Anniversary Gala, we are feeling more motivated than ever, inspired by new ideas and goals to grow our impact and change the lives of even more children around the world. We are very excited to take this ride together with each and every one of you.”
Mixing in rousing entertainment, United States dressage star Anna Buffini treated guests to a heartfelt performance of “Rise Up” by Andrea Day. She was accompanied by Mister Trombone, a master of building the energy throughout the room.
It’s simple for Wellington equestrians to find common ground in the arena, but JustWorld challenges the tight-knit family to take it a stride further and offers an abundance of opportunities to give back. After the awards ceremony, presenters led into a thrilling live auction where one of a kind items and experiences were auctioned off. While the competitive auction was full of highlights for 12 special guests, the moment which touched hearts was when the Peeps Foundation’s miniature pintaloosa Oreo went home to his forever family with a little boy.
The essence of family is an integral notion which JustWorld is proud to foster within the organization, offering a special space for love and growth for members both old and new.
“Seven years ago I decided to leave my family, my career and my friends to pursue a dream. The equestrian community gave me strength and confidence to keep moving forward…I found a family far away from home, and this is the perfect example of how powerful we are together, and how much you care,” said Kiss, her speech ringing out a thunderous applause in the packed room.
JustWorld founder Jessica Newman couldn’t help but be reminded of the first JustWorld Gala, held in a humble tent around Belle Herbe’s familiar center fountain. Guests like Laura Kraut (USA) and Juan Andreas Rodrigues (GUA) and his family, who attended the Gala in its earliest years, are among the equestrians who today can appreciate the full scale of its impact.
“It’s a family and generational event. So you see kids, parents, grandparents, everyone getting involved. The gala is also an opportunity to introduce new people to JustWorld, so they can learn about our mission and potentially get involved,” said Newman.
“We are not an anonymous organization where you’re just another person. Everyone who is part of JustWorld makes it what it is. We want people to walk away from the Gala knowing they have a difference because we are making real change.”
Making real change is something worth celebrating, so when the auction closed, the very people who continue to make it happen everyday did just that. With his unique musical stylings, Mister Trombone escorted guests from their tables to the dance floor where international house DJ Crazibiza inspired hours of dancing, joy and laughter.
At the end of the night the tally was officially in, the 20th Anniversary JustWorld Gala raised over half a million dollars. Twenty years of action is only the beginning, and JustWorld is thrilled to see just how far we can go. With your help, we will create a better life for thousands more children around the world.
Established in 2003, JustWorld was founded to provide equestrians with a way to support carefully vetted education, healthcare and nutrition programs for impoverished children around the world. Thousands of JustWorld Ambassadors from more than 40 countries have since committed to “ride for the cause” and assist JustWorld in accomplishing its mission to help build brighter futures for these children and their communities. Equestrian-based companies and events worldwide support JustWorld’s efforts, and the governing body of the global equestrian sport, the FEI, has endorsed JustWorld as its official charity partner. In 2022, JustWorld is helping improve the lives of nearly 10,000 impoverished children around the globe daily.
To donate, become an Ambassador, or learn more about JustWorld, please visit www.justworldinternational.org or @justworldinternational on Facebook and Instagram.