Wellington, Fla. – Feb. 1, 2020 – Saturday night lights at the Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) returned to the International Arena of the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center on Saturday, February 1, this time bringing the 11th annual Great Charity Challenge to the ring. The infamous class is known for its fun twist to traditional equestrian competition, as it implements relay-style courses for 24 teams to compete over. Each team is made up of three riders, one professional and two amateurs, who compete over 21 fences in hopes of going clear, being fast and winning it all for their selected charity. Racing for the Spirit of Giving Network, Team “Chicago” won it all with Sofia Rodriguez, Caroline Mewhinney and Jessica Mendoza as members of their triumphant group. Taking second place was Team “Cats riding for Wellington Cares, while Team “Great Gatsby” representing Vita Nova, Inc. finished in third.
The special competition benefited over 60 charities, including the Step By Step Foundation, Back To Basics and Children’s Home Society. Over the past 10 years, the Great Charity Challenge, presented by Fidelity Investments, has raised over $14.8 million and has helped over 240 charities in Palm Beach County alone.
FROM THE WINNER’S CIRCLE
“This is our third year doing this. We took a lot of time preparing our costumes and the horses and it is amazing to go out there and win, especially when it is for charity. The theme was Broadway and Caroline’s mum decided we were going to do ‘Chicago’. I train Caroline, and Sofia is one of Caroline’s good friends. We picked our fastest horses so that we could win! I was riding Caroline’s horse Flashback and she was riding Ballerine. Sofia was riding one of her friend’s horses so that was her first time riding it, but she did amazing out there. I think it is amazing that we are an all women’s team and I hope we inspire others to do it. We are extremely happy to be doing this.”
“I have done this two years prior and it was amazing to represent a charity, and of course win so that we can donate an epic fund to them and make their year. I think it is really cool [to be on a team with a professional]. You learn a lot from riding with professionals but it is also fun and a chance to bond with other people. It really brings everyone together. It is very empowering [to be on an all women’s team] and I hope to inspire others as well.”
“This is my first year doing this and I feel so excited for the charities. I feel so happy to get to ride in a night class, it was my first time and I feel so happy to get to know this mare!”
Lindy Harvey, Executive Director of The Spirit of Giving:
“The Spirit of Giving is actually a collaborative non-profit and we have 72 other non-profit members underneath us. So, not only is this helping us but it is helping 72 other members and thousands of local children. It is really exciting and it is a very big win for us! Over 60 charities were represented tonight, so 60 charities were helped. It is so amazing for charities to just show up to this event and receive money. We all work so hard for our money and to get grants and donors, so it is an amazing event to be able to just show up, get money and have fun. We have an event next month that is our Community Spirit Race. We have 34 nonprofits signed up underneath us to help them raise money so we will use this money towards that. That will take place on March 7th at the Florida Atlantic University Stadium. Most of what we do is in Palm Beach, but we do a little bit in North Broward as well. Most of our charities fall under the category of families and children, but we have a wide variety too.”
Susan Diener, Board Member of The Spirit of Giving:
“This is our third year participating and it is such an amazing event that helps so many charities. It is fabulous for our community and I want to say thank you for all you do. I know it is a fun event that we all love coming out for, but it also makes a huge impact on our community. Another big event we do is our Back to School Bash in the summer. This past year we used some of the Great Charity Challenge money from last year to help implement a women’s room where we were able to supply bras and feminine products for the women. The men were a little upset so this year we will try and have something for the men too! We also do a holiday gift drive. We try to provide meaningful fun gifts for over 6,000 children in the area, which really helps out during the holidays. Some of these kids may never see anything under their tree. Last year we came in fourth. Our first year out here we were near the end. We received about $33,000 and we were about 20th, which was still fabulous.”
Paige Bellissimo, founder of the Great Charity Challenge:
“I am just so grateful. For one, all of the organizations that we get to support through this, you are the ones who are doing the work throughout the community with the most vulnerable populations. Two, I want to thank the riders that donate their time and horses to this event. It is one of the most fun events. I am a little bit biased, but no matter who wins, we are all so excited because it makes a big difference in our own backyard. That is a really cool feeling, so thank you to everyone who participated.”