The 12th Annual Great Charity Challenge

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The 12th Annual Great Charity Challenge

By Krista Martinelli of AroundWellington.com.  Photos by Lois Spatz of LS Photos.

Wellington is the winter capital of the equestrian world.  And when it comes to the Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF), the biggest and most anticipated event of the 12-week series is the Great Charity Challenge presented by Fidelity Investments® (GCC).  On February 6th at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center, over one million dollars were distributed to local non-profit organizations. 

The Great Charity Challenge (GCC) combines an exciting show jumping event with an evening of philanthropy, where 23 pro-am equestrian teams represent each of 23 randomly picked charities.  This year’s first place team represented the YWCA of Palm Beach County, bringing a grand prize of $100,000 to the organization.  The second place team was Junior Achievement of the Palm Beaches (receiving $90,000).  Third place was the Center for Family Services of Palm Beach County (receiving $80,000). But let me add that coming in last place in such a grand event is not a bad situation either, as this non-profit organization receives $15,000.  Everyone is a winner.

“It’s corporate social responsibility at its finest,” says Executive Director Anne Caroline Valtin. A masterful and gracious liaison to corporate sponsors, non-profit organizations and equestrians, Valtin explains that this job is her “golden calling.”  But she adds humbly, “I’m a link – nothing more, nothing less.”  With a business background as a sales rep for equestrian brands, Valtin came to Wellington, FL in 2011.  “I was 24 when I met Mark and Paige Bellissimo (the father/daughter team who founded the GCC) and I saw the Great Charity Challenge.  My blessing is that I grew into this role,” she says. And what she’s not saying but seems quite evident is that she has helped the event grow tremendously.  Over the past few years, Valtin also got her Master’s degree in International Human Rights Law. 

The winning team of riders – Lindsey Tomeu riding Bonapart, Ashley Vogel on Lucy in the Sky, and Shane Sweetnam riding Heart on Fire – sponsored by team sponsor Spy Coast and Preston and corporate sponsor Diamante Dressage, represented the US Army as their heroes. 

Of course, this year was a bit different with COVID-19 impacting the event.  The public, which usually provides a lot of loud cheering from the stands, was not allowed on site, but encouraged to watch the event virtually.  The theme of the event was “We Can Be Heroes, Just for One Day” as a tribute to healthcare and essential workers during the pandemic. 

While there was talk of not having the GCC this year, the founders and Anne Caroline Valtin knew that this year, when people are so impacted by the effects of COVID, it was more important than ever before, and the non-profits desperately needed the funds.  “There was a spiritual element to this year’s event,” says photographer Lois Spatz. “With no real crowd, the equestrians were truly riding for their charity – it was powerful.” 

“We are elated,” said Shea Spencer, Executive Director of YWCA of Palm Beach County, the 1st place non-profit of the evening. “We do have some very specific plans for the $100,000,” said 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 childcare 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.”

There are many elements to the GCC, some which couldn’t happen this year due to COVID-19 restrictions (like a local, juried art show inside one of the many tents of the sprawling, beautiful Palm Beach International Equestrian Center).  But one tradition was carried on and with a great sense of humor.  The equestrians usually dress up in colorful costumes to match the theme of the evening.  This year we saw equestrians and their horses, dressed up as rolls of TP, the Notorious RBG, The Incredibles, the virus itself and, as a real tribute, as Executive Director Anne Caroline. 

One team of equestrians dressed up as Anne Caroline Valtin to honor her contributions to the community. Here’s Anne Caroline Valtin with one of those riders.

The winning team of riders – Lindsey Tomeu riding Bonapart, Ashley Vogel on Lucy in the Sky, and Shane Sweetnam riding Heart on Fire – sponsored by team sponsor Spy Coast and Preston and corporate sponsor Diamante Dressage, represented the US Army as their heroes.  Shane Sweetnam of Ireland, since the time of the GCC, won the CSI*5 Grand Prix on February 13th.  

Since Equestrian Sport Productions takes on all of the costs of the event, 100% of the funds raised go to the charities.  It’s truly a win/win/win event!  For a full listing of sponsors, charities and equestrian teams, visit https://gcc.coth.com/  For a brief interview with Anne Caroline Valtin of the GCC, visit AroundWellington.com, see below.