Wellington, FL – February 6, 2021 – HOPE: one word, four letters and so much more. For 46 Palm Beach County Charities, the feeling of hope shifted into a reality on Saturday, February 6, at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center (PBIEC). What is usually the biggest night of the 12-week Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF), the Great Charity Challenge sponsored by Fidelity Investments® (GCC) pivoted to a blend of in-person competition for riders and virtual celebration for charities and supporters. Those supporters cheered as equestrians and their mounts, representing local non-profit organizations, competed for a share of more than $1 million in prize money.
Held at PBIEC in Wellington, Palm Beach County, Florida, the past 12 years, the GCC has become a highlight of the winter season and has distributed a stunning $15,928,227.66 to 276 local non-profit organizations (we invite you to click here to view the full list).
Determined to show the power of united communities, the GCC is an exciting show jumping event that combines equestrian sports and philanthropy, bringing hope to Palm Beach County charities every year. Three riders made up the top team of the night out of 23 pro-am combinations, which are 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.
In addition to the 23 charities that were part of the GCC competition, an additional 24 non-profits received funding through grants that were awarded leading up to the event. For a full list of benefiting non-profit organizations, we invite you to visit: www.GreatCharityChallenge.com
“Seeing the level of need in our community and knowing how difficult the past year has been, we quickly realized that we couldn’t turn our backs on our most vulnerable neighbors,” said GCC co-founder Mark Bellissimo. “We are truly grateful to see that the community was able to adapt to this format while stepping up to provide crucial funding to local organizations.”
A special recognition at the beginning of the event paid recognition to all of the friends of GCC we lost and those who we lost to the pandemic in the past year.
Following a year of uncertainties and challenges, the GCC featured riders dressed up in costumes and horses adorned to match them, paying recognition to the #Heroes who stepped up during the pandemic as well as those who have inspired us to push beyond our own limits and driven us to “dream bigger.”
The winning team of riders – Lindsey Tomeu riding Bonapart, Ashley Vogel on Lucy in the Sky, and Shane Sweetnam aboard Heart on Fire – sponsored by team sponsor Spy Coast and Preston and corporate sponsor Diamante Dressage, came in the ring representing the United States Army as their heroes and finished with a time of 91.664 seconds. Their strategy and teamwork paid off for their assigned charity YWCA of Palm Beach County, a local non-profit organization that is dedicated to eliminating racism, empowering women, and promoting peace, justice, freedom, and dignity for all, earning them the top prize of $100,000. The sliding scale for the balance of the proceeds, down to 22nd place winning a minimum of $15,000, ensured that everyone was a winner.
Team sponsor Spy Coast and Preston has been involved with the Great Charity Challenge since its first year in 2010. “I’ve been supporting [the GCC] since its inception,” said Lisa Lourie of Spy Coast Farm, “and I’ve been fortunate enough to win four times thanks to an incredible team. Shane is one of the top grand prix riders here at this show, and he still participates every single year. I think he might be passing on the baton next year, but that doesn’t mean we won’t have an incredible team. He trains these kids and brings them along to be like him so that’s really terrific. Monica [Preston] and I have been more than happy to contribute to this cause, and we’re very thrilled that we pulled the YWCA, especially thrilled about the causes they’re directing their money towards. Both Monica and I are all for empowering women, certainly for racial equality, and helping children, so we’re thrilled to do it and we’re honored and privileged to be able to do it in this way.”
“We are elated,” said Shay Spencer, Executive Director of YWCA of Palm Beach County. “We have been live streaming all night, and we are so thankful to the sponsors, the supporters, the riders, everyone who livestreamed, and especially to the GCC for putting this all together. We have been supporters, and it is amazing to now be award recipients.
“We do have some very specific plans for the $100,000,” continued Spencer. “We have an amazing new initiative called the Women’s Health Institute, which helps to target the disparities that women face in the health industry, being both women and women of color. We have our child development center which helps to provide free, quality child care for low income families. We are going to use the funds to continue our mission, to empower women, to eliminate racism, and to promote peace, freedom, and justice for all. It’s been an amazing night.”
GCC team veteran Shane Sweetnam commented, “Every year it’s a great event and it’s a great cause for the community, especially this year. I know it probably wasn’t easy to organize, but these charities need it more than ever this year. It’s great that we could do our part and have something to cheer for and give back to our community.”
Coming in second place was the team for Junior Achievement of the Palm Beaches, sponsored by Lothlorien Farm and corporate sponsor La Victoria Farm. The team consisted of Edie Wetzel riding Annabelle, Charlotte McLaughlin aboard Elmo, and Daniel Coyle on Essedon, who were just a single second shy of the win in 92.869 seconds, earning $90,000 for their charity.
Center for Family Services of Palm Beach County finished third and won $80,000 with a time of 92.756 seconds. The team was made up of Keira Foster on Ash Ville Rock, Olivia Markman riding Zanta Fee Van T Hofterrijckel, and Zayna Rizvi aboard Chaplin W, sponsored by Peacock Ridge and corporate sponsor Rosner’s Appliances.
“Fidelity Investments is committed to making a difference in the communities where we work and live, and we were proud to be the presenting sponsor of the Winter Equestrian Festival and the 12th edition of the Great Charity Challenge. This important event distributed over $1 million to more than 40 charities in the Palm Beach community, which will help assist populations most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Dave Cvercko, Regional Head of Fidelity’s South-Central Investor Centers.
Great Charity Challenge co-founder Paige Bellissimo commented, “While this year’s event looked very different than our usual full stands, our focus remained the same: to ensure that local non-profit heroes receive a financial ‘leg up’ during these challenging times. We are so grateful for the support and generosity of the event sponsors and donors who make this possible!”
In the spirit of collaboration during these challenging times, United Way of Palm Beach County joined forces with the Great Charity Challenge, enabling spectators near and far to donate to the event online for the first time.
With a focus on community impact, the event also teamed up with the Equestrian Cooperative, an initiative founded by Adrienne Sternlicht, Lucy Deslauriers, Paige Bellissimo, and Tori Repole, aimed at making social activism and community involvement more accessible to equestrians. Their first mission: to dissolve the medical debt of about 1,200 people in Palm Beach County. In working with RIP Medical Debt, a non-profit organization that buys medical debt at pennies on the dollar, their $34,000 goal will eradicate approximately $5 million of debt at approximately $1.50 to the penny. For additional information on how to alleviate the financial burdens of those with whom we share our community, please visit: https://secure.qgiv.com/event/ec/
Grant drawings and special initiatives took place leading up to the event’s 12th edition. Thanks to the annual support of the Ziegler Family Foundation, five non-profits were surprised with $10,000 grants. Additionally, thanks to the generosity of elected officials and long-time supporters, the following non-profits were randomly awarded grants ranging from $1,000 to $5,000: The Alliance of Women Executives, Faulk Center for Counseling, Florence Fuller Child Development Centers, Help Our Wounded Foundation, JDRF, Kayla Cares 4 Kids, Nicholas and Christen Thompson Foundation, Sea Turtle Adventures, Speak up for Kids, and Unified Dream.
“We are truly inspired by seeing key players come together to support change in this community,” concluded Mark Bellissimo. “There are many 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.”
More information on the competition and winning charities of the 2021 GCC will be available shortly via www.greatcharitychallenge.com
Event photos and fund use updates will also be shared via Facebook: www.facebook.com/greatcharitychallenge
About Fidelity Investments
Fidelity’s mission is to inspire better futures and deliver better outcomes for the customers and businesses we serve. With assets under administration of $9.8 trillion, including discretionary assets of $3.8 trillion as of December 31, 2020, we focus on meeting the unique needs of a diverse set of customers: helping more than 35 million people invest their own life savings, 22,000 businesses manage employee benefit programs, as well as providing more than 13,500 institutions with investment and technology solutions to invest their own clients’ money. Privately held for more than 70 years, Fidelity employs more than 47,000 associates who are focused on the long-term success of our customers. For more information about Fidelity Investments, visit https://www.fidelity.com/about-fidelity/our-company.
Full Results: 2021 Great Charity Challenge sponsored by Fidelity Investments®: