On Saturday night, Palm Beach County cheered as the Great Charity Challenge, presented by Fidelity Investments® (GCC), distributed $1.5 million to local non-profit organizations 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 $12.2 million to more than 220 local organizations in nine years. The class was a highlight of the week at Palm Beach International Equestrian Center (PBIEC). WEF continues through April 1 at PBIEC in Wellington, FL, and offers more than $9 million in prize money.
Determined to redefine the recognition of true stars, the GCC is an exciting show jumping event that brings hope to over 30 Palm Beach County charities every year.
This year’s theme: “A Night When Everyone’s a Star” highlighted the many perspectives that stardom can feature; from the hundreds of non-profit representatives and volunteers, to the event sponsors and the riders, dressed as their favorite Hollywood characters. All twelve Wellington Public Schools joined in the festivities by participating in a Chalk Art Festival, featuring the essence of the night: inspiring others to give.
The winning team of riders: Shane Sweetnam, Lindsey Tomeu, and Chloe White, sponsored by team sponsor Spy Coast Farm/Lisa Lourie and Monica Preston, and corporate sponsor Dever Golf Cars, came in the ring dressed as characters from the movie Grease (Watch their winning ride HERE). Their teamwork and sportsmanship paid off for Education Foundation, a local non-profit organization that facilitates student achievement by supporting high quality public education to more than 200,000 children in Palm Beach County, earning them the top prize of $150,000. The sliding scale for the balance of the proceeds, down to 29th place, won a minimum of $15,000, ensuring that everyone is a winner.
The three riders made up the top team of the night out of 29 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.
James Gavrilos, President and CEO of the Education Foundation, stated “the Education Foundation serves the nation’s tenth largest school district. There are 200,000 children in this school district. With the funds that are donated tonight because of what you young people have done, we’re going to change lives! We’re going to educate kids. One of our donors has said it best, ‘Children only make up 20 percent of our population, but they’re 100 percent of our future.’ If we don’t educate our children, prepare them for college, prepare them for life, what’s going to happen for them? That’s why it’s so exciting to see this collaboration of people coming together to change the world one kid at a time – or in our case, 200,000 kids at a time. The Education Foundation sponsors a number of large grants, small grants, creative teachers who are doing things to really influence lives.
“Tonight, what you three (riders) and you, Lisa, and Paige (Bellissimo), you and your family – you’ve done a great thing with an incredible amount of love. The love that I see in this community and the camaraderie, that’s the way we change the world. When we hold hands, when we band together, when we love one another, and we look at someone who needs, and we don’t ask why, we ask why not? Thank you for honoring us and letting us be part of this.”
Team sponsor Lisa Lourie said, “Monica Preston and I really enjoy doing this every year. We’re very fortunate to have people who are so committed and make sure that they have really good horses. They really give it their all. But more importantly of course, is the Education Foundation and the other charities that we’ve been able to assist. It’s very special. Monica and I are both residents of this area, of Palm Beach. It means a lot for us to give back. It’s a great way for them to see what we do and the heart that we put into things. I think it’s a way for other people here in our family at Wellington to appreciate what all of these charities do. That’s the most important thing, that they get their visibility.”
This was the third year in a row that the Spy Coast Farm/Preston team has won the GCC, including team riders Shane Sweetnam and Lindsey Tomeu. It was the first time competing for Chloe White. For winning the third year in a row, Lourie and Preston donated a $15,000 bonus to Meals on Wheels.Shane Sweetnam, who has ridden in the GCC every year, was captain of the winning team riding Catch a Star HHS with riders Lindsey Tomeu on Gold Lux and Chloe White riding Miss Understood II. All three riders jumped clear over their courses and had the fastest combined time of the night in 88.157 seconds.
“We thought we left the door open a little bit,” said Sweetnam. “I had a younger horse, a little bit of change of dynamics to the team. So it wasn’t as fast as last year, but everyone did a great job. We’re here at the top again. Someone had to really take chances to beat us. It’s great for the Education Foundation.”
Tomeu, who was competing for the fifth time in the GCC, said, “For me it’s a great experience every year. I love it. I love going fast. I was a little nervous, because I didn’t have the same horse that I’ve had in past years, but she stepped up to the plate tonight. She helped the team, and I’m really proud of everybody.”
First-timer Chloe White added, “It was amazing. It’s great that we get to do something that we love and raise money for other people while doing it.”
GCC Founder Paige Bellissimo said that the impact of this event is incredible.
“We’ve actually been measuring the impact, and last year alone, we touched over 200,000 lives,” she said. “That’s the work that everyone is doing. It’s been really special. I just want to say a big thank you to the sponsors, the riders, especially the charities, and the executive directors like James who have just such incredible vision and execution. Thank you for making our community a better place.”
Coming in second place was the team for Quantum House, sponsored by Pine Hollow as well as corporate sponsor, The Shaughnessy Family. The team consisted of Carly Dvorkin, Daisy Farish, and David Blake, who finished with a combined time of 89.918 seconds to earn $125,000 for their charity.
Stem HQ dba TechGarage finished third and won $112,500. The team was made up of Gia Rinaldi, Kennedy McCauley, and Haylie Rolfe, sponsored by CP and corporate sponsors The Bainbridge Companies. All three riders finished the course and had a combined time of 94.559 seconds.
All of the riders had fun with the this year’s theme of “A Night When Everyone’s A Star”, with costumes ranging from Lord of the Rings and Avatar to Toy Story and Top Gun.
“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 on Palm Beach Gardens.
Equestrian Sport Productions’ CEO Mark Bellissimo congratulated everyone on an exciting event.
“I just want to thank this team and the dedication of everyone for giving their time and energy,” Bellissimo stated. “This is a big gesture. The owner doesn’t get the money and the rider doesn’t get the money; the charity gets the money, and it will touch thousands of lives in the years to come. Surpassing the $10 million milestone makes the GCC the legacy of the Winter Equestrian Festival and the sponsors involved.
“This event was created to find heroes in the community, and I think we found some here. I can’t think of a better group to pull it off, we are very grateful to everyone,” he concluded.
More information on the competition and winning charities of the 2018 GCC will be available soon. For more information on the GCC, visit www.greatcharitychallenge.com.