The “Saturday Night Lights” of the 12-week Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) beamed on Palm Beach County Charities during the 10th Annual Great Charity Challenge, presented by Fidelity Investments® (GCC), on Saturday, February 2. Holy Ground Shelter for the Homeless took home $150,000 as the lion’s share of the $1.3 million in prize money on offer after their team of riders David Blake, Carly Dvorkin, and Madelyn Ruskin, along with team sponsor Pine Hollow and corporate sponsor Havensafe Farm, took the victory.
The top three teams, along with their charity and team sponsor representatives, for the 2019 Great Charity Challenge, presented by Fidelity Investments®. Photo © Sportfot.
In total, 26 pro-am combinations were paired with randomly selected Palm Beach County charities. Each team consisted of junior and amateur riders competing side-by-side with top professionals, including several Olympians.
“We Are The World” was the theme of the night with riders, charities, local families, and horse sport fans coming dressed in support of their favorite nation. In total, the evening’s contributions brought the overall Great Charity Challenge tally to $13.5 million distributed to more than 230 well-deserving Palm Beach County charities over the last 10 years.
Madelyn Ruskin and Abazu BSM. Photo © Sportfot
Madelyn Ruskin aboard Abazu BSM, Carly Dvorkin on Carlotta 168, and David Blake riding Emilia made up the top trio of riders, presented by team sponsor Pine Hollow and corporate sponsor Havensafe Farm. They produced three perfect rides on the relay-style course to finish on a final time of 91.904 seconds. The winning charity, Holy Ground Shelter for the Homeless, shelters and mentors homeless, pregnant, and parenting young girls and their children ages 17 to 23.
“I can’t even begin to put into words what this means to us,” said Phyllis Turner Jepson, Executive Director of Holy Ground Shelter for the Homeless. “This is life-changing, and it means that several lives will be changed because of this money. They did such an amazing job for us and I told them earlier when I met them that I had a really good feeling, but this is a better feeling! We’re in shock and just so deeply, deeply grateful.
“I want to thank Paige [Bellissimo] and [GCC Executive Director] Anne Caroline [Valtin], because I know that the two of them have worked so, so hard to put this together,” continued Jepson. “So many charities have benefited from this event!”
Great Charity Challenge Founder Paige Bellissimo commented, “Year after year, you think, ‘Wow, this is the best year ever.’ Then the costumes get better, the energy gets better, everyone gets a bit more excited, and they tell their friends to come. It just keeps growing, and it’s really an amazing event that bridges the local community and the equestrian community. I’m so thankful for everyone who’s a part of it.”
“We hold a strong belief that change happens through the power of united communities,” said GCC Executive Director Anne Caroline Valtin. “We hope that all who attended the GCC are inspired to keep working together to better the lives of so many in Palm Beach County.”
David Blake and Emilia. Photo © Sportfot
Team sponsor Pine Hollow has been involved with the Great Charity Challenge since its inception and watched their team finish second in 2018 before jumping to victory this year.
“My favorite night of the year is definitely tonight,” said Howard Dvorkin of Pine Hollow. “Helping the homeless and the women that this charity serves – I can’t think of a better organization to win this event.”
Speaking to the strategy of their team, anchor rider Blake noted, “I think the main thing in this class is to get good transitions from rider to rider, so we definitely focused on that. We earned this money for our charity focusing on that strategy, and I think that’s more important than going for the speed. Tonight we came out on top for a great cause!”
Blake trains Carly Dvorkin, who shares a special dedication to the event with the rest of her family, include father Howard and mother Gwen.
“The Great Charity Challenge has always been very unique and special to my family,” she said. “My favorite thing is seeing the charity’s faces – everyone from the charity being so grateful and appreciative. It means so much to me because I’m doing what I love while helping others.”
Carly Dvorkin and Carlotta 168. Photo © Sportfot
With a sound strategy in place, the top team also selected horses perfect for the job. Ruskin, who participated in the event for the second time this year, was especially proud of her mount, saying, “I love going fast; that’s one thing that I really enjoy. I’m so grateful for my horse. He takes care of me so much, and he’s a great partner to have.”
Riders Katherine Barnard, Samantha Wight, and Daniel Bluman were just a single second shy of the win in 92.817 seconds, but second place still delivered $125,000 to their charity, the Kids Cancer Foundation. The runner-up team was supported by team sponsor The Wight Family and corporate sponsor Artemis Farm.
The third place team, made up of Claire Schreder, Coco Fath, and Molly Ashe, jumped for Speak Up For Kids Palm Beach County and won the charity $100,000 with a time of 94.046 seconds. Their team sponsor was Louisburg Farm and corporate sponsor Fidelity Investments®.
“I think a really important aspect of this event is that it helps the local community,” concluded Bellissimo. “We are really trying to see and inspire change right within our own neighborhood. There are so many amazing charities within Palm Beach County that do just that, but access to funding is very difficult. So being able to give them access to funding so they can do what they do best is what makes this event so special.”
All of the participating charities in the 2019 Great Charity Challenge, presented by Fidelity Investments®. Photo © Lois Spatz.
All 26 charities selected for the Great Charity Challenge received a share of prize money on a sliding scale at the conclusion of the evening with the smallest amount totaling $15,500. More information on the Great Charity Challenge and the 2019 winning charities can be found at www.greatcharitychallenge.com.