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Wellington The Magazine, LLC Featured Articles

Our Wellington: There’s Always Something Amazing To Do In Wellington

Our Wellington: There’s Always Something Amazing To Do In Wellington

Check It Out: Unique Entertainment And Cultural Options In Wellington

Are you bored with the same old thing? We went searching for unique entertainment and cultural options right here in our community. You can see a movie in the lap of luxury, take in an amazing tribute concert, check out an impressive public art gallery, visit a very moving memorial and experience the world’s most advanced riding simulators. How many of these hidden gems have you explored?

Experience The Equine Simulator

Experience horseback riding in a new way at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center with the amazing Equine Simulators. PBIEC offers jumper, cross country, dressage and polo sessions to both competitive and beginner equestrians who are interested in improving their riding skills.

The Equine Simulator is a mechanical device that imitates natural equine movement and physical responses to mounted riders.

The simulators serve as a one-of-a-kind opportunity for equestrian enthusiasts to fine-tune their skills, as well as provide a platform for individuals who have never ridden a horse to begin their riding careers in a safe and controlled environment.

Three interactive screens surround the simulator, creating an immersive atmosphere for individuals. A certified instructor is always on hand to perfect seat position, leg stability and connection to the bit.

World-class trainer Barbro Ask-Upmark teaches show jumping, cross country and dressage sessions for all ages and rider levels. Ask-Upmark is an accomplished dressage rider earning her USDF gold, silver and bronze medals in the United States, following her successful career as a top dressage trainer in Sweden. Ask-Upmark became involved with coaching and training on simulators in 2006.

A second simulator offers practice for polo players. This device allows them to work on their position and their swing with the moving treadmills located on either side of the horse. To practice hand-eye coordination, as well as near-side and off-side shots, both experienced players or first-time riders are encouraged to sign up for a session with polo instructor Gates Gridley.

The Equine Simulators are available for lessons at PBIEC. For more information about the simulators, or to book your first session, visit www.pbiec.coth.com or call (561) 793-JUMP.

See A Movie At The New Paragon Theaters

Years in the planning, Paragon Theaters opening earlier this year at the Mall at Wellington Green, offering guests the latest movie entertainment options in the lap of state-of-the-art luxury.

“We love the Wellington area, our home office is located in Florida, and the mall was a perfect location for our newest Paragon Theaters,” Paragon’s Niki Wilson said.

In Wellington, Paragon has 10 auditoriums of varying sizes — all with its signature reclining seats. Tickets are available online, at an automated kiosk or through guest services. The smallest auditorium features 47 recliners, while the largest has 176.

While you’re enjoying the big screen in the same comfort as your living room at home, don’t forget the snacks. The concession stand has popcorn, candy, soda and all the typical stuff, but guests can also enjoy beer and wine — and even a full gourmet meal.

Cask + Shaker Craft Bar and Kitchen, the adjacent Paragon-owned restaurant, serves up amazing creations from a diverse menu. You can dine there, or have your meal served in the theater on your recliner’s tray table. Yes! Chef-prepared appetizers, meals and serious cocktails for mom and dad, paired with popcorn and soda for the kids. Everybody’s happy!

Even if you don’t have time for a movie, Cask + Shaker is open to help you relax while you visit the mall. The restaurant offers a happy hour every Monday through Thursday from 3 to 6 p.m. with amazing drink and appetizer specials.

“Look for more promotions for both the restaurant and the theater, coming soon,” Wilson said.

For more information, including a treasure trove of special movie features and pricing, including how to get group rates, visit www.paragontheaters.com/promotions.

 

Take In A Tribute Concert At The Amphitheater

Live concerts by tribute bands — not the real deal, but pretty darn close — have been steadily gaining in popularity. Entertainers performing hits from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s can command audiences of up to 3,000, and tribute band musical shows are among the most popular events held at the Wellington Amphitheater.

Interest spans the age groups, with older residents looking to reclaim a bit of their youth, and a rock-loving younger generation wanting to learn firsthand what all the fuss is about. “The younger kids maybe heard these groups on the radio and want to hear what the music sounds like live,” Wellington Cultural Programs & Facilities Manager Joe Piconcelli said.

Concerts are held several times a month on Saturdays, and admission is always free. In case of inclement weather, concerts may be rescheduled.

Slated to appear between September and December are the sounds of Motown, the Eagles, Bruce Springsteen, Val Halen, Aerosmith, Eric Clapton and Fleetwood Mac. In December, there’s a holiday show with a Neil Diamond tribute band, as well as the Wellington Chamber of Commerce’s Winterfest, featuring Vanilla Ice (the real one). Negotiations are underway to bring in the sounds of the Beatles, Stevie Wonder, the Bee Gees, Prince and Michael Jackson during the 2018 winter season.

On Thursday nights, food trucks and local bands still working toward tribute band status inhabit the space and, on Friday nights, there are movie nights — and that doesn’t include the many festivals and special events that also visit the amphitheater.

Concert-goers are welcome to bring blankets or chairs and, for the little ones, it’s nice to know that bathrooms and Scott’s Place playground are nearby.

For more information about events at the Wellington Amphitheater, contact Piconcelli at (561) 791-4756 or jpiconcelli@wellington fl.gov. Find the complete schedule online at www.wellingtonfl.gov.

Visit The Wellington Patriot Memorial

A more somber place for quiet reflecting is the incredibly moving Wellington Patriot Memorial, located along Forest Hill Blvd. in front of the Wellington Municipal Complex.

Following the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks that downed the World Trade Center towers in New York, hundreds of pieces of steel were used as evidence during the investigation and eventually offered for public display. In 2009, communities around the world sent letters requesting pieces of the World Trade Center, and Wellington was selected to receive one.

Wellington staff members traveled to New York and selected the piece they felt best suited Wellington’s planned memorial. The beam was solemnly transported here, where the memorial site, complete with an eternal flame and reflecting pond, was being readied.

“This piece was recovered from the South Tower, just below where the plane attack took place,” Wellington’s Nicole Coates said. “In addition to a plaque with the history of the piece of steel, there is also a plaque with the names etched in glass of all the victims who lost their lives that day.”

The Wellington Patriot Memorial was dedicated on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. It sits in a place of honor at the gateway to the village complex.

“That location is such a good fit for our public display. There are also unrealized benefits that cannot be quantified,” Coates explained. “There are all sorts of uses of that memorial that you wouldn’t think of. There has been a funeral there; one of the keynote speakers from the dedication wanted to have his eulogy read there — and it was.”

Individuals and groups come for miles around to visit this unique Wellington treasure.

“Tens of thousands of people visit each year, especially considering that we have a lot of activity around that site,” Coates said. “We are grateful to have this unique artifact, a part of American history, and we invite everyone to come out and take a look.”

The Wellington Patriot Memorial can be found at 12300 W. Forest Hill Blvd.

 

Check Out The Wellington Art Society Gallery

Craving a cultural fix? The Wellington Art Society hosts a year-round art installation at the Wellington Municipal Complex, where the works of its members span two floors in a rotating show.

“The dedicated gallery encompasses all the perimeter walls on both the first and second floors, with an atrium area in the center,” Wellington Art Society Board Member Leslie Pfeiffer said. “It accommodates 40 to 60 pieces of artwork and has professional natural spectrum track lighting, as well as the natural daylight from the windows. There’s enough space to accommodate smaller as well as larger pieces, including sculpture.”

Every four months, a committee chooses a theme for each installation, juries the entries, gets a Wellington Village Council member’s approval on the choices, then places each piece in the gallery for Wellington staff to install.

The gallery is open whenever the building is open, and each show features a reception during which the public can meet the artists.

“The Wellington Art Society is open to local and regional artists of all mediums, patrons of the arts and snowbirds,” Pfeiffer said. “We feature professional and emerging artists, as well as nationally acclaimed artists. Mediums include drawing, painting, photography, mixed media, sculpture and ceramics. To keep it interesting, each show is a combination of mediums and techniques.”

The location is well-suited to offer an “art break” to those visiting the village’s nearby facilities. In addition to receptions and self-guided tours, the Wellington Art Society has scheduled private tours for scout troops, women’s groups and art groups from other areas.

The artwork on display is for sale, with 20 percent of the purchase price going toward the Wellington Art Society’s Scholarship Fund. Over the last decade, $75,000 in college scholarships has been distributed among 50 talented students for advanced art studies. “It’s our legacy, and we’re very proud of that,” Pfeiffer said.

The Wellington Art Society meets monthly and also hosts exhibits at other locations around the community. On the horizon is the annual ArtFest on the Green juried show slated for Jan. 27-28, 2018 at the Wellington Amphitheater.

For additional information, visit www.wellingtonartsociety.org.

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Back To Basics Wellington-Based Nonprofit Helps Children In Need

Back To Basics Wellington-Based
Nonprofit Helps Children In Need

Back to Basics, a Wellington-based charitable organization, has easily helped more than 500,000 children in need in Palm Beach and Martin counties over the course of three decades.

Founded by Wellington resident Beverly Perham, Back to Basics is now in its 34th year.

Adamant in keeping her promises, Perham and her team help as many children as possible, be it through providing school uniforms in August or providing holiday gifts in December. Through its Christmas season Angel Program, each child receives new sneakers, socks, underwear and a toy.

Back to Basics recently provided school uniforms to students in 47 schools, as well as the Guatemalan-Maya Center in Lake Worth. They delivered 12,000 school uniforms in Palm Beach County — up 2,000 from the 2016-17 school year.

However, the numbers, and the need, continue to grow.

“We took on a few more schools, and then a few more of the schools,” Perham said. “We really need to increase how much we give, because they’re so desperate. However, I can’t commit to more than I think we can handle.”

This holiday season, she has 7,015 children on the list provided to the organization through schools — up from 5,800 last year. Students at 51 schools will be served during the upcoming holiday season.

“It’s sad that we have that many, and we could do more, but you can only do what you have funding for,” Perham said. “Right now, we’re going to be in desperate straits for Christmas.”

Businesses, organizations and groups will come to Perham and ask for a list of children to “adopt” for the holiday season. Back to Basics provides a first name only, the school and what size items the child needs. Then, the participating organizations purchase the clothing and gifts, bringing them to a drop-off location.

“They have to just call me, and we’ll make arrangements,” Perham said.

If there are children who haven’t been adopted, grants and cash donations help Back to Basics provide the much-needed items for those children.

Perham takes as many names from the schools as possible — and will make sure those children receive their gifts. However, as more children are in need, it is getting more difficult to keep up with the demand.

Individuals are also able to receive names and information to help children in need. In fact, a core group of individual donors are one of the driving forces behind the organization.

Back to Basics is tax-exempt, and any gift is tax-deductible, Perham added.

Purchasing for Back to Basics is kept local, she noted, and each year, she estimates that $500,000 is poured into the local economy as individuals and businesses purchase items to help local children in need.

“It makes me feel good that it’s done in the community,” Perham said. “The best part is that it’s done anonymously and nobody gets highlighted. We don’t get praised for our work. We do it because we have a love for the community and we want the community to survive, and the only way the community survives is if you take care of the children. If the kids go to school and learn, that’s the satisfaction involved. That’s what the purpose is, to keep the kids in school so they do learn, so they will be able to support themselves when they’re adults.”

The gifts are done anonymously, so the children and their families are protected and their privacy respected.

“It’s sad that kids don’t have underwear to wear to school, but it’s a fact,” Perham said. “It’s reality that it happens.”

Over the years, the need has consistently continued to grow, and like she has done every year, Perham has put out the call for supporters and volunteers to help out this holiday season.

Back to Basics is always accepting donations and has many volunteer opportunities available. For more information, call Perham at (561) 319-4277, e-mail info@backtobasicsinc.org or visit www.backtobasicsinc.org.

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Great Charity Challenge Leads The Way In Equestrian Philanthropy

Great Charity Challenge Leads The  Way In Equestrian Philanthropy

Wellington’s equestrian community has long been a leader in local philanthropy, and that tendency toward charitable giving has been magnified over the past nine years thanks to the Great Charity Challenge, presented by Fidelity Investments, held each February at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center.

The Great Charity Challenge is a special event where equestrians — amateurs, juniors and professionals — are paired with local charities for a high-energy show jumping competition. The charities receive donations based upon how their team ranks, with each receiving a sizable minimum donation.

The competition is the brainchild of co-founders Mark Bellissimo and his daughter, Paige. The event runs like clockwork thanks to the hard work of Executive Director Anne Caroline Valtin.

Valtin first experienced the Great Charity Challenge, or GCC for short, during its first year and knew she had to become involved. “I instantly fell in love with the concept,” she said. “I’m a true humanitarian at heart and passionate about equestrian sports. The event was a fairytale come true.”

The evening allows passionate equestrians to foster change in the community. A lottery picks each year’s participating charities, and Mark Bellissimo’s company Equestrian Sport Productions covers all of the costs associated with the event, which allows all of the money raised to go directly back into the community.

Currently, the GCC aims to distribute $1.5 million each year to dozens of Palm Beach County nonprofits. In 2017, the event surpassed the $10 million mark in total giving. Sponsors, and volunteers, are integral to the success of the event.

“We are extremely lucky and grateful to have long-time sponsors by our side. They believe in making Palm Beach County a better place, and are eager to support the event and the many wonderful causes represented every year,” Valtin said. “I believe that the way the GCC is set up makes it easier for individuals, families and businesses to give back. It can be very challenging to pick just one organization to help while not being sure which one is best.”

The competition wouldn’t be possible without the horses and riders that fly through the relay course. Amateur and junior riders are teamed up with world-class riders to form the three-person teams.

For the amateur and junior riders, the opportunity to ride on a team with some of the world’s best equestrians, learning from them, is an experience to remember.

“Just like in every other sport, these Olympic riders are role models. We admire them for their dedication to the sport and their talent in the ring,” Valtin said. “Getting the opportunity to share the ring with them is something you dream of. You could compare it to boys getting the opportunity to play with their favorite football player.”

For those top professionals, riding for a charity event — risking themselves and their horses — shows their amazing character, Valtin said, noting that they take the competition seriously.

“One of my favorite memories of the event was during the fifth edition where 10-time Olympian Ian Millar captained the winning team with riders Kelly Soleau and Emily Kinch,” Valtin said.

During a press interview, she recalled that he said, “It was a great pleasure to do it, and when we finished our round, I can’t tell you the pleasure I had. It is a very enjoyable and rewarding class just because of the situation. I mean, winning a grand prix is great, but this is different. This is special.”

Competing at the GCC allows the elite riders, as well as up-and-coming riders, to make a difference in the lives of hundreds, if not thousands, of individuals, Valtin said, stressing that the event is unlike other equestrian competitions.

“It’s a unifying competition where everyone genuinely puts their interests aside and focuses on giving a leg up to others,” she said.

After the event each year, Valtin takes the time to share on the GCC web site and social media how the competition impacts the many organizations involved. This lets sponsors and the community know where the money is going. She has also had the opportunity to visit many of the organizations helped by the Great Charity Challenge.

“The impact can be as simple as updating all of the windows in a homeless shelter, purchasing a new fridge/freezer for a food pantry, being able to assist an extra 100 students with tutoring, or even laying the foundation for a foster home,” Valtin said.

In addition to helping many local nonprofits, the GCC created a permanent partnership with the 12 public schools in Wellington. The schools are the only group that automatically participates in the GCC each year.

“We were surprised to realize that schools depend immensely on donations and external funding to cover basics, such as providing after-school tutoring, running special programs or even purchasing new lunchroom tables,” Valtin said. “Creating a partnership with them was a natural fit. The Winter Equestrian Festival is their backyard, and we wanted them to gain access to it.”

Each school is also invited during the winter season to showcase their talents and perform the national anthem for the crowd during grand prix competition evenings.

“It is remarkable to meet so many wonderful and gifted students, along with the dedicated staff and parents,” Valtin said. “We will be once again inviting them out for a chalk art contest, on the night of the GCC, where each school will be given the opportunity to share what it means to them to give back. All schools are guaranteed a minimum of $1,000 for participating and will receive up to $2,500, based on a judging panel’s final results.”

Equestrian Sport Productions promotes the Great Charity Challenge and offers free general admission during the Winter Equestrian Festival. During the GCC, there is free admission and parking.

“The event is a community celebration,” Valtin said. “We want to make sure that everyone and anyone who wishes to come can be there to witness the generosity of the sponsors, passion of the riders and the dedication of so many local nonprofit organizations.  We believe that the world needs more feel-good stories — and the GCC is definitely one of them.”

Next year’s Great Charity Challenge will take place Saturday, Feb. 10. The theme will be “Hollywood Feature Films: A Night Where Everyone is a Star.” Previous themes have ranged from superheroes to animated characters.

“Riders have showcased amazing costumes in the last few years,” Valtin said. “We look forward to seeing what they come up with for the 2018 edition. We invite everyone to join us ‘red carpet ready.’ Gates will open at 6 p.m., with competition set for 6:30 p.m.”

For sponsorship information, contact Valtin at (727) 678-8677 or acv@greatcharitychallenge.com. For additional information about the charities, application process and event details, visit www.greatcharitychallenge.com and www.facebook.com/greatcharitychallenge.

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Equestrian Aid Foundation Stands Ready To Help Equestrians In Need

Equestrian Aid Foundation Stands Ready To
Help Equestrians In Need

Wellington is the winter equestrian capital of the world, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that among the area’s unique philanthropic endeavors is the Equestrian Aid Foundation, which raises money that is then given as grants to members of the equestrian community in their time of need.

In the horse industry, a catastrophic injury can occur in the blink of an eye. The aftermath of that injury, or a catastrophic illness, can be devastating — never being able to walk again, never being able to ride again, not being able to put food on the table, and, in essence, losing your identity.

“Horses are beloved, yet unpredictable animals. Things can happen or change within an instant,” Equestrian Aid Foundation Executive Director Louise Smith said. “It could happen to pretty much anybody.”

However, since 1996, the Equestrian Aid Foundation has been there to help those in the equestrian industry as they go through such difficult times, helping to rebuild their lives.

The EAF was founded as the Equestrian AIDS Foundation to help those battling that deadly illness. Its mission has since expanded to help all equestrians in need and has provided grants of more than $2.7 million, assisting equestrians in 30 states. “We help with things that insurance won’t cover,” Smith explained.

The EAF is a kind hand, extending hope and support when someone in the industry — riders, grooms, barn managers, trainers, farriers and more — is facing the inability to conduct life as they know it. After all, many equestrians eat, drink, work and sleep barn life. If that is taken away from them, it is devastating.

Smith was drawn to the organization when she learned about what EAF is and how it helps. She discovered that the EAF could have helped a friend of hers, but they didn’t know about it at the time. Therefore, raising awareness is an important goal for Smith, and other EAF leaders.

“The mission of the Equestrian Aid Foundation is to provide emergency grant-based financial support to horse men and women who are coping with catastrophic injury and illness,” Board President Stephanie Riggio Bulger said. “It started as the Equestrian AIDS Foundation, and the mission was to assist horse men and women who were living with HIV and AIDS.”

Approximately 10 years after its inception, the “S” was dropped.

“It became Aid instead of AIDS, and we started helping any injury, illness, you name it, as long as it was catastrophic enough to prevent the person from being able to work, and it caused a loss of income,” Riggio Bulger said.

Based in Wellington, the EAF has impacted equestrians across the country. Many fundraisers, such as local events with stores such as On Course Consignment, BurgerFi, Charming Charlie and Consign & Design, where retailers have held activities, promotions or shopping days, and then donated revenue to the EAF, have a large impact.

“A diverse group of companies have lent their support to the organization,” Smith said. “That’s really amazing, and that really speaks to the generosity of people, not only in Wellington, who support the foundation, sponsor us, participate in our events and activities — they make an impact all across the country.”

The EAF also holds an annual fundraiser, such as last season’s Althea, an equestrian show featuring former Cavalia artists. A newer program with the EAF is the second annual Jump for Charity, taking place at the Hampton Classic Horse Show. Riders are paired with charities and special caps are made, and sold, with proceeds benefiting the charities. Georgina Bloomberg will be riding for the EAF this year.

“It was such a fortuitous pick because she’s an old friend of the foundation,” Riggio Bulger said. “She was a board member for many years, and she’s a dear friend of mine. It was extra special for us that Georgina got picked to be our rider.”

At other competitions, horse show managers are able to support the EAF through its Show You Care program, where a class can be designated as a Show You Care class, where anywhere from five to 50 percent of the entry fee is donated to the EAF. Competitors receive a green lapel ribbon to wear during the show.

Utilizing social media helps raise awareness for the organization, which recently received gold star status from GuideStar, which rates nonprofit organizations. Only a small fraction of the 1.8 million organizations listed in GuideStar achieve gold status.

“It reinforces the work we’re doing and our stature in the community. It’s a gold star on our foundation,” Riggio Bulger said. “It shows we’re doing good work and high-quality work.”

Through EAF grants, individuals who thought they never would be able to walk again are able to receive physical therapy and other medical assistance that is able to make a difference in their mobility and ability to regain their lives.

“When you’re told you’ll never ride again, when you’re told you’ll never have your job again, when you’re told you’ll never walk again, it makes such a difference to get some help,” Smith said. “In the horse world, there’s so many times your life revolves around your barn and your colleagues. And when you’re injured, oftentimes it’s a very lonely experience.”

Whether it is recovering from cancer, complications during back surgery or a debilitating injury, the EAF is there to provide hope, support and funds. Having money is one part of the battle, but knowing there is an organization of people offering support is one of the things that makes the EAF special.

“It’s such a feel-good organization, to hear that all the work we’re doing saves people’s lives, it saves people’s houses, it saves people’s horses, it allows them to keep food on the table while they’re recovering,” Riggio Bulger added. “Sometimes small gestures can have a huge impact.”

For more info., call (800) 792-6068 or visit www.equestrianaidfoundation.org.

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Panther Ridge Nonprofit Aims To Save Big Cats From Extinction

Panther Ridge Nonprofit Aims To  Save Big Cats From Extinction

The Panther Ridge Conservation Center, located in the Palm Beach Point community, is a special place — and also one of Wellington’s most unique nonprofit organizations.

Panther Ridge, founded in 1999 by Judy Berens, is a place where you can come face-to-face with a black leopard or a clouded leopard, or perhaps a jaguar or cougar.

The common thread between these animals is that they are all exotic cats with dwindling numbers in the wild.

“We have eight species, and certainly two of them will be gone from the wild in 20 years, it’s predicted,” Berens said.

Originally, she founded Panther Ridge as a rescue facility for exotic large cats in need.

“But now, it has evolved to become an education mission to help people understand the threats against wildlife that exist in the world today — and the fact that many of the species that are housed at Panther Ridge will be extinct within their range habitats within the next 20 years, if not sooner,” Berens said.

It costs approximately $150,000 a year to care for the animals, and the costs quickly add up, between food, vitamins, medicines, habitats and, of course, enrichment and toys.

“We depend on the generosity of individuals and corporations,” Berens said.

To help support the animals, Berens offers several types of tours of the facility.

A tour at Panther Ridge is a unique, intimate experience. Visitors have the opportunity to learn about the cats, their stories, their species and how they live.

If you listen carefully, it’s possible to hear the purr of Charlie, a cheetah. When the sun beams at just the right angle, you can see the spots on Amos, a black leopard who has been at Panther Ridge since he was a week old.

Last year, Mateo, a jaguar, and Meeka, a cougar, joined the Panther Ridge family as cubs. Over the last few months, they’ve grown up immensely, continuously changing.

Berens and her team have strong bonds with the feline residents of Panther Ridge and enjoy sharing their knowledge of these very rare cats.

With rapidly dwindling numbers in the wild, and only some species having enough genetic diversity for captive breeding, Panther Ridge offers an exquisite glimpse into the lives of majestic creatures that may not exist in the wild for much longer. Captive breeding might be the only way to save them.

“In the last 20 years, I have seen such a paradigm shift in the situation for animals in the wild. I am not only considering, but embracing the concept of captive breeding for some of these species that will surely be extinct in the wild very shortly,” Berens said.

As the situation for the animals has changed, she has adjusted the mission of Panther Ridge.

“As the world has evolved, we have evolved. Now we are trying to put our efforts where they will be more impactful,” Berens said. “The concept of returning animals to the wild, although it is beautifully idealistic, where is that wild to put them back into, after the forest has been cut down and the jungle has been cut down? The wild will not exist.”

With their natural habitat dwindling, there is only so much people can do. Berens suggests becoming involved in worldwide conservation efforts and finding good quality, local projects to support.

“That will be making a difference in the everyday lives and survival of these animals,” Berens explained. “The impact of man on the environment is what’s causing the rest of them to go over the edge.”

At Panther Ridge, Berens and her team work with conservation centers around the world, gathering information about the cats and their behavior. Sharing information about the animals, their medical histories and their behaviors is crucial for efforts to help them survive.

School groups visit Panther Ridge and are able to observe and learn about the cats in an up-close-and-personal atmosphere that is unique to Panther Ridge.

There are many ways the local community can choose to support Panther Ridge. The nonprofit conservation center offers tours by appointment only, either with Berens herself or with her team. During a tour, guests learn about the residents and conservation efforts.

Sponsorship adoptions are available for the cats that go toward their care and needs. Donations are also helpful. On the Panther Ridge web site is a wish list of items such as a GoPro camera, playground mulch, cleaner, bleach, lumber and metal leaf rakes that are used to care for the cats and their habitats.

Panther Ridge also hosts several fundraising events each year, and it is possible to make Panther Ridge the recipient of a school or organization fundraiser. Fascinated by big cats and looking to help out? Panther Ridge also accepts volunteers.

For more information, call the Panther Ridge Conservation Center at (561) 795-8914 or visit www.pantherridge.org.

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Wycliffe Charities Foundation Community Raises Money For Many Great Causes

Wycliffe Charities Foundation Community Raises Money For Many Great Causes

The Wycliffe Charities Foundation has been a fixture for more than 20 years, putting one community’s philanthropic efforts to work for nonprofit organizations across the western communities and beyond.

“The people of Wycliffe are very generous. They sponsor a number of events that we hold during the year,” Wycliffe Charities Foundation President Gerry Ranzal said. “It’s all very exciting. If you go to the different charities we sponsor, and you talk to the people that they help, and the love and respect and gratitude that they convey to you, it is a wonderful feeling.”

Today, the Wycliffe Charities Foundation continues to honor the goals of supporting community nonprofits serving central Palm Beach County. The foundation has signature annual events it continues to hold in order to raise money for the long list of charities it donates to every year.

“That’s an ongoing thing all year, so even though the golf tournament is in March and the shredding is in April, and we have raffles in January, the tributes are collected all year,” Treasurer Harriet Ross said. “That’s how I started out on the board, just doing the tributes for about three or four years, and then I elevated to the treasury.”

This year, the charity broke its record for annual money raised — $158,500.

Sue Webber, past president of the organization, said the foundation has donated about $1.8 million over the past 20 years to the nonprofit organizations it supports.

“We embrace the charities, and they embrace us,” Vice President Gail Horowitz said.

The foundation’s annual golf tournament continues to be its largest event of the year. The tournament hosts approximately 300 people who support the foundation’s mission.

“It takes all of us,” Horowitz said. “It’s not one person. It’s not two people. It’s the whole community that does it, coming together and being able to pull it off… every year, and saying, ‘Are we going to be able to do it?’ ‘Can we do it?’ ‘Is it going to be ok?’ And, every year, it gets bigger and better.”

The Wycliffe Charities Foundation has the world “charity” in it, but it’s the word “foundation” that speaks more to its mission.

“We’re really not a charity. We are a foundation,” Webber said. “Again, making us unique, because it’s the community, and I have to say that the Wycliffe staff who work here are the most generous people. So, this is truly a whole community, the employees, the staff at the country club and the residents who live here [who make it happen]. It’s amazing how really generous and supportive they are.”

When the foundation is not fundraising through its major golf tournament, shredding and bike/walk events, it has an active tribute program that allows people to raise money individually for the foundation.

“People in Wycliffe typically will donate money in memory of or in honor of someone, or celebrating a birthday,” Horowitz said.

There is a strict foundation policy for a nonprofit to be considered eligible to receive donations from the Wycliffe Charities Foundation. All of the money raised is donated to local health-related, educational and children’s organizations in Palm Beach County, as written in the foundation’s mission statement.

“Every charity has to write a grant request. The board of governors then goes through all the grant requests, and we decide which charities to give to,” Webber said. “Usually, by the time the golf tournament is over, we’ve raised all the money for the year, and we need to decide how we are going to divide it. We’re very strict about what we do.”

Another way the charity makes money is participating in community events, and this year it won additional money through the Great Charity Challenge by placing eighth in the equestrian competition. That money helped the foundation break its annual donation record.

“We go out and visit the charities that we give money to, and they come here,” Horowtiz said. “They come and they participate in the bike/walks and the golf tournament. So, they become an integral part of who and what we are.”

This year, the foundation donated money to 25 charities. This was up from the 18 charities it usually makes donations to each year, due to the extra money.

The 2017 grant recipients were: Aid to Victims of Domestic Abuse, the Alpert Jewish Family and Children’s Service, the Caridad Center, the Center for Child Counseling, the Center for Trauma Counseling, the Children’s Home Society of Florida, Clinics Can Help, Faith-Hope-Love-Charity Inc., Families First of Palm Beach County, Grandma’s Place, Home Safe, Horses Healing Hearts, the Hospice of Palm Beach County Foundation, the Kids Cancer Foundation, KidSafe, the Literacy Coalition of Palm Beach County, the Mental Health Association of Palm Beach County, the Palm Beach Habilitation Center, the Palm Beach School for Autism, Paws 4 Liberty, Palm Beach County Fire-Rescue, the Quantum House, the Sari Center, Speak Up for Kids and the West Palm Beach Library Foundation.

The main operations of the foundation are between December and April, Ranzal said. After the shredding event in April, there are meetings and preparations for the next year.

“It was a wonderful year. I really enjoy raising money for these charities,” Ranzal said. “It’s always a challenge, and everything happens at the last minute, but we all work through it, and the people who are involved work hard and get everything done on time.”

To learn more about the Wycliffe Charities Foundation, visit www.wycliffecharities.com. To contact the foundation, call (561) 434-2918 or e-mail wycliffecharities@hotmail.com.

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PMI Remodeling & Repairs A One-Stop Shop For All Projects, Big And Small

PMI Remodeling & Repairs A One-Stop Shop For All Projects, Big And Small

At PMI Remodeling & Repairs, “one call repairs it all.” The family business has been based in Wellington since it was founded by Paul Tonks in 1987.

After working at the old Wellington Club, Paul struck out his own when he saw the need for a remodeling and repair company in the growing community. He currently runs the business with his son, Phil, and the rest of their family.

“We’ve come from being a one-man company to now being a lot bigger than we were,” said Paul, who is originally from England.

Starting in Paul’s garage many moons ago, they have since moved to several different buildings in Wellington’s industrial centers, bringing them to the current office, where they have a showroom full of supplies and mock-ups for clients to come and pick out anything they want, ranging from kitchens and bathrooms to whole house renovations and repairs.

“I came to the business when fax machines and computers started coming onto the scene, so I brought those kinds of technology in, and built the software to run the company,” said Phil, who is destined to one day take over the business.

Though Paul said he is looking to retire soon, Phil pointed out that he has been saying that for the last five years.

Phil is ready and able to take over for his father. He has had his state building contractor’s license for more than 20 years and is devoted to the company.

PMI services include remodeling, commercial services, roofing, gutters, siding, windows, plumbing, electrical, heating, air conditioning, irrigation and painting. Their approach is different from other companies.

“We go out to their place, and we’re a little different because there’s no pressure,” Phil said. “We’ll go out and meet with the husband only, or the wife only, and go through their ideas, come back with a preliminary estimate, send it to them, and if it’s something they like, in the ballpark of what they’re thinking, they’ll come in here to the showroom.”

The showroom, which is more like a designer selection area, allows customers to peruse tiles, flooring, cabinets and other items, which, since PMI will already have the project’s measurements, allows clients to see what fits into their budget.

In addition to four different cabinet companies, with cabinetry at different price points, PMI also has a custom cabinet shop, giving them the ability to not only build custom cabinets for a project, but also the ability to modify cabinets to meet the needs of various projects.

Often people will come in asking for advice. On occasion, they’ll come in with their own decorators and already know what they want. All they need is an estimate from PMI and they’re ready.

Because PMI is able to do all of the work in-house, with electricians, plumbers, tile people, materials and labor, when clients get an estimate from them, it is complete, Paul said, explaining how that is something unique PMI offers clients.

“You can come in here, pick out everything you want, and we’ll make sure it works. That’s the beauty of working with PMI,” Paul said. “We’re not going to ask them to go out and find another company. We’d rather they didn’t; we’d rather use our own people.”

Because of how they work, Phil added, PMI has extensive resources and is able to quickly and efficiently work on a project. For example, where some companies might run into roadblocks that delay a project, PMI has contractors ready to take care of anything, which means the project isn’t delayed.

PMI has the ability to work with anything from appliance repair companies, cleaning companies, window cleaning, pressure cleaning, plumbers, electricians, roofers, and grout cleaning and staining.

PMI works with an architect who draws up plans, Paul added. “It’s a one-stop-shop. It can all be done in-house,” he said.

The entire team works together to accomplish a project that makes PMI proud and customers happy. “It’s important that our subcontractors care about the customers like we do,” Phil said. “We answer the phone every day — it doesn’t go to voicemail. We have an emergency phone after hours that goes to me. We’re here every day from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. We hold a customer’s hand through the project. Also, we decided about 10 years ago to start doing big remodeling projects through the summer months when many customers aren’t here.”

During the summer, they’ll send photo updates, and when the client comes back for the season, the job is done, the house is clean, and they can move right in.

For those looking to take on a remodeling project, Paul suggests that people know what they want and do their homework. “Start early, when you know what you want to do. Get your prices together and work with a company you want to work with,” he suggested. “People try to control the job; it’s very difficult. You have to really let it go to a contractor who can take it, run with it and do it.”

PMI Remodeling & Repairs is located at 3340 Fairlane Farms Road, Suite 6, in Wellington. For more
information, call (561) 798-5722 or visit www.pmi1call.com.

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Female Wrestler Hosanna Kropp Breaks Down Barriers At Wellington High School

Female Wrestler Hosanna Kropp Breaks Down Barriers At Wellington High School

Hosanna Kropp has come a long way in a short time. Two years ago, the Wellington High School wrestler could barely lift the 45-pound weightlifting bar and was unable to do one pull-up. Now the junior regularly benches 140 pounds with ease and does five pull-ups while wearing a 25-pound steel chain.

“Hosanna’s work ethic is really unmatched,” wrestling coach Travis Gray said. “I have been coaching for 15 years, and I have never coached someone as committed and determined as her. If she can find somewhere to work out seven days a week, she will do it. All summer long, she has been attending camps, competing in tournaments and training in the weight room.”

Kropp gained great experience by competing in several major tournaments over the summer, including the U.S. Marine Corps Junior and Cadet Nationals in Fargo, N.D., held July 15-22. She finished 2-2 in the individuals, highlighted by her second match, where she trailed 8-0 before rallying for a 15-14 victory.

“I wrestle all year long so colleges can look at me,” said Kropp, who was homeschooled before arriving at WHS as a freshman. “Eventually, I want to win an Olympic title — that’s my ultimate dream.”

The high school wrestling season begins in early November and ends with the state tournament in early March.

During the high school season, Kropp usually gets a run in before school and lifts four days a week through her wrestling class. Wrestling practice lasts between an hour and 90 minutes. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, she is an assistant coach at a youth wrestling class, and then wrestles in another practice from 6:30 to 8 p.m. After practice on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, she trains at PAL boxing.

During the summer, Kropp lifts six days a week and wrestles six or seven days a week. She participates in high-level camps to improve her wrestling and train freestyle for national tournaments.

“I’d say I work way harder during the summer due to all the amazing national women wrestling opportunities that there are,” Kropp explained.

Kropp competed in other sports before focusing on wrestling. She was a competitive figure skater, a pole vaulter and boxed at the PAL, which was where she learned about the Wellington wrestling program.

“As a middle schooler, I was not very strong,” said Kropp, who turns 17 in November. “I wanted to learn how to fight so that I could get in shape and protect myself. I didn’t really know what wrestling was, but I really loved boxing and thought wrestling might be able to help me.”

When she arrived at WHS, she headed to a wrestling meeting to find a room full of boys staring right at her.

“Travis Gray asked me if I wanted to be a stat girl, I said, ‘No, I want to wrestle!’ It felt a little awkward that day being the only girl, but now my teammates are as close to me as family,” Kropp said.

The Wolverines have won the last four district championships and the last two county championships, and expect to have new wrestlers at eight of the 14 weight classes. Their top returnees are seniors Jared Abramson (126 pounds) and Eric Saber (170 pounds), along with Chris Difiore (106 pounds) and Cameryn Townsend (138 pounds).

“I know one of Hosanna’s biggest goals is to make our varsity lineup, and it has been and will continue to be difficult, because she is at the weight classes where we have our best wrestlers,” Gray said. “Right now, we are just focused on getting her better every day.”

Kropp wrestled at 126 pounds last season and is planning to compete for a varsity spot at 120 pounds. Whatever happens, she knows that the team fully supports her.

“We have a great group of kids at Wellington, and they really received her well from the beginning,” Gray said. “I know her father was very concerned about her wrestling with boys — and just wrestling in general. I had a long talk with her father before she began, and I actually thought that I may have unintentionally talked her dad out of letting her come out for the team by telling him that we haven’t had any other girls stay with the program. I recommended that maybe she could have a friend come out for the team with her so she felt more comfortable. She proved me wrong. Ever since her first day, she has fit in with the team, and she really has earned the respect of her coaches and teammates through all of her hard work.”

Kropp said she is known at school as “the girl wrestler” and wears it as a badge of honor. Wrestling has helped her develop character, which helps her in her everyday life.

“To be a quality wrestler, I have learned I must show excellence in not only wrestling, but everything I do,” Kropp said. “Whether it’s my grades, or taking out the trash, I always make sure I do the job to the best of my ability. Doing these things will all fall back to wrestling and give you good habits. I’ve also learned that nothing is ever given; you must work hard for everything you have. There is no luck in wrestling; you must earn every point you get.”

Kropp understands that she is a role model and encourages other young women to pursue wrestling.

“This sport requires physical strength, but the majority of it is mental,” she said. “When you’re out there on the mat, it’s a battle where you must exhibit 100 percent of your physical, mental and emotional strength. It seems nerve-wrecking, but I love the thrill of competition. As a girl, many see me as having a disadvantage on the mat, but I don’t see it this way. It’s not always the strongest or fastest opponent who wins, it’s the opponent who is mentally tougher and perseveres through the last second of the match.”

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Dance Marathon Program Grows Into A Student Fundraising Tradition At WHS

Dance Marathon Program Grows Into A Student Fundraising Tradition At WHS

Over the course of the last five years, the students at Wellington High School have raised $164,829 to help the Children’s Miracle Network through the Dance Marathon program.

They started out slowly, raising $11,710.39 in 2013, the first year WHS participated in the program. They raised a bit more in 2014, bringing in $11,802.67, and raised the stakes further in 2015, bringing in an impressive $14,648.25.

In 2016, the goal was set at $25,000. The school surged through that goal, raising a record $42,223.52 and earning the recognition of raising the most money of any Florida high school, noted Student Government Association sponsor Melissa Varvarigos.

In 2017, following the previous years’ expectation, the students not only achieved their goal of raising $50,000, they soared past it, raising an astounding $82,444.17, including $3,450.40 contributed by students at Wellington Landings Middle School.

Dance Marathon started out as a college fundraiser through the University of Florida. They call the high school Dance Marathon events “mini marathons.” WHS now ranks as the No. 1 school in Florida, the No. 1 school in the southern United States, and the No. 5 school in the entire nation, Varvarigos said.

And it wouldn’t be possible without the passion and drive that her students have displayed, with two students in particular, Sam Weingart and Jake Anders, rallying the students and acting as the driving force behind the growth of the Dance Marathon program at WHS.

For the first three years, approximately 100 students attended the seven-hour event. Last year, the number doubled to 200, thanks to the efforts of Weingart. In 2017, there were 300 attendees, Varvarigos said.

Weingart ran the event in 2016, and Anders took over in 2017. He will once again be running it in 2018, during his senior year. “This is an organization that I love,” said Weingart, now a student at UF.

Dance Marathon, he added, was the deciding factor for him choosing UF over other schools he considered, such as Emory University. “I couldn’t give up Dance Marathon,” Weingart explained. “At the end of the day, it all came back to Dance Marathon.”

He hopes to become a captain, working marathon relations for high schools. “It all started freshman year when I was in the auditorium,” Weingart recalled.

He saw a video about Dance Marathon and the children impacted by the money raised. “It really sunk in to me, and when they turned on the lights, I was in tears,” Weingart said.

Weingart is confident that if everyone works together, following their passion, it is entirely possible for the school to raise $100,000 in 2018.

“You just need one person to ignite the flame — one person who is really passionate about something,” he said.

And that person is his successor, Anders, joined by the rest of the SGA team.

Anders is already setting up a busy calendar of events for Dance Marathon 2018.

Last year, the students held car washes, restaurant food nights, a carnival and the move-a-thon at Wellington Landings. This year, they’re looking at adding other events, perhaps even a golf tournament, he said.

“It’s a huge group effort, and it’s run through our Wellington High School student government,” Anders said. “We not only work with our student government and within our school, but we also work with the Wellington Chamber.”

Dance Marathon had a booth at the chamber’s Winterfest.

“There are a lot of people who come together to put on Dance Marathon, even if it’s not for the actual event on that exact day,” Anders said.

The day of Dance Marathon is special. “Miracle Children,” those who the fundraising is really for, come and take part. In 2017, three Miracle Children attended.

“One of the best parts for me is that everyone who walks in the room leaves saying it was the best night of their life,” Anders said.

It’s personal for Anders, as well. He has gone to the Shands Children’s Hospital in Gainesville, the nearest Children’s Miracle Network hospital, walked the halls and met with sick children. He has seen personally what they, and their families, go through, and how money from Dance Marathon helps.

“Being able to be someone who can advocate, and not only raise money, but raise awareness and support and comfort to these families, is a feeling that is like no other,” Anders said. “It has honestly changed the way I’ve thought about life, and changed the way I want to live my life. It has definitely given me what I want to do when I’m older — become a pediatric cardiologist and hopefully work at Shands.”

In the background, always supporting the SGA students, is Varvarigos.

“Mrs. Varvarigos is honestly amazing. She is a mother to two kids, a wife and our SGA sponsor, and basically a mother to all 28 kids in that room. She is incredible. She is there from the start of everything to the end of everything,” Anders said. “We couldn’t have done it without her.”

Varvarigos is proud of her students and their ability to engage others with their passion. This year, more than 25 students raised more than $1,000, earning them a spot in the “Comma Club.”

Their accomplishments, their passion and their drive, leave her proud of her students, current and former.

“There are so many things that the SGA does, whether it’s the $82,000 or bikes for Rosenwald [Elementary School] or the homecoming events, they put their all into it. You look at that, and you’re really proud,” she said. “They’re just awesome kids.”

The students display a special sense of selflessness working on SGA projects.

“The kids often say we’re like a little family, and it’s true,” she said. “We have different facets of personality, some crazy, some funny, some quiet. We have kids who run the gamut, but at the end of the day, they’re right. We are a family.”

To learn more about the children impacted by Dance Marathon, visit www.floridadm.org/meet-the-kids.

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Wellington’s Ahmmon Richards Making Waves At The University Of Miami

Wellington’s Ahmmon Richards Making Waves At The University Of Miami

Wellington High School graduate Ahmmon Richards wanted to make an impact as a freshman at the University of Miami. Mission accomplished.

Richards, the former superstar wide receiver for the Wolverines, produced an ascendant first season for the resurgent University of Miami football team. The 6-foot-1, 190-pounder set a freshman record for receiving yards with 934, breaking Hall of Famer Michael Irvin’s mark that had stood for 31 years.

Richards started 11 of 13 games and caught 49 passes, averaging 19.1 yards per catch for the Hurricanes. His 934 receiving yards led all freshmen nationally and were the sixth most in a single season in UM history. His outstanding efforts earned Richards freshman All-American honors from numerous national organizations, including ESPN and the Football Writers Association of America.

Richards, who was heavily recruited and had more than 20 Division I offers before choosing Miami, has already put his record-setting freshman season behind him and looks to the future.

Along with his amazing athletic ability, Richards has received unwavering support from his parents.

“My dad always pushes me. Both my parents, actually, and they always pushed me to never settle,” said Richards, who turned 19 on May 20. “And that’s a big thing for me. I never settle. What happened last year, that’s last year.”

Richards enters the 2017 season as the Hurricanes primary receiver and expects more attention from defenses, similar to what he experienced during his standout career with the Wolverines. He has improved in numerous areas since arriving on the Coral Gables campus. His speed and catching ability give Miami a deep threat — a game-breaker that will help its inexperienced quarterback.

If Miami can balance Richards with elite running back Mark Walton, the Wellington native has a chance to overcome the inevitable double-teams and flourish. The Hurricanes open up their second season under head coach Mark Richt on Sept. 2 against Bethune-Cookman University, followed by road games at Arkansas State on Sept. 9 and rival Florida State on Sept. 16 at 8 p.m. in a nationally televised contest.

Richards is ready for the bright lights and top competition.

“When I got here, I was probably running around 4.4, and since I got here, I am running like 4.31,” said Richards, who also added about 20 pounds. “So, the strength staff has definitely gotten me faster and stronger.”

Richards has also adjusted to the transition between high school and the university setting, with the biggest difference being the speed of everything.

“College is just a different speed, different workouts, time with classes,” Richards said. “I have class right after this [interview]. It’s different from high school.”

Wellington head football coach Tom Abel strongly believes in Richards.

“He was probably the most dominant high school player I have ever coached,” Abel said. “He was the hardest-working player I have ever been around… When he got the ball, magic happened.”

Richards led the Wolverines in most offensive categories and finished his senior year with 73 catches for 1,278 yards and 14 touchdowns. He received the prestigious 2015 Palm Beach County High School Player of the Year award presented by the Palm Beach County Sports Commission. He was also named the Palm Beach Post All-Area Football Large Schools Offensive Player of the Year.

“My favorite memory of him is when he received a hit in a game, and I wanted to take him out because I thought he was injured,” Abel said. “After talking to him, he told me he was OK. We were on offense. I called his number right after his non-injury, and he caught a slant and took it to the house about 70 yards full speed, and then came off the sideline and asked if he could get the ball again to help his team out.”

Abel said Richards would do everything he could to contribute to the team and support his teammates.

“That mental attitude has carried with him to this day,” Abel said. “He is special, and we love him. He always stayed after practice every day to help the quarterbacks get timing. It worked out great for all of us.”

Richards said he enjoyed his time with the Wolverines, which included an 11-2 record and a trip to the Class 8A regional finals as a junior, the most successful season in school history.

“It’s a brotherhood,” said Richards, whose team lost in the first round of the playoffs in his senior season. “Most kids transfer to other schools, but I am from Wellington, and I just wanted to play with my brothers. And that is something that lasts a lifetime.”

Richards, who has a younger sister, as well as an older and younger brother, grew up playing in the Western Communities Football League, where players are on a different team each year. He started out as a running back, but a coach switched him to wide receiver several years before his final season. His brother, Mark-Anthony, is currently one of the top high school receivers in the county.

Abel said the elder Richards, as a person, is very humble, spiritual and thankful for everything.

“He is always willing to do the right thing for everyone,” Abel said. “He is a pleasure to be around. He always stays hungry and focused.”

Richards said that playing at UM has been everything he thought it would be.

“With the coaches and everything, I believed in them through recruiting, and everything they said is coming to life,” he said.

And, hopefully, that will continue as his sophomore season gets underway.

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