FEI North American Youth Champions of Change

How Adopt A Project Builds Connections Between Riders and Communities in Need

We chose to ‘Make the learning environment come alive in Honduras’,” said JustWorld Ambassador (JWI) Mia Albelo, Zone 4, Junior Team Jumping silver medalist. 

Albelo’s team was among the 21 podium finishing squads in the North American Youth Championships (NAYC) at Traverse City Horse Shows (TCHS) to take part in the inspiring (JWI) initiative known as Adopt A Project. Generously sponsored by the Rein Family, it is the third year TCHS implemented the charitable activity. Through Adopt A Project, medaling teams had a valuable task post-press conference. 

The Rein family provided $1,500 grants for first place, $1,000 grants for second place, and $500 grants for third place. The teams then went to work, reading through their Adopt A Project ‘menus’ which outlined essential needs in the developing communities JWI serves. After learning about the projects in Cambodia, Guatemala, Honduras, and the United States, and a thoughtful deliberation, teams decided which programs to offer their donations. When all was said and done, donations totaled more than $20,000.

Credit: TCHS / Megan Giese Photography

The excitement began during NAYC’s iconic welcome ceremony–the Parade of Nations. JWI team leader Allie Bowe carried the JWI flag alongside dedicated Ambassadors as the energy of the championships swelled. Riders cheered and donned the colors of the United States, Canada, Guatemala, Honduras, and Dominican Republic with bright posters marking their respective Zones. For JWI, the celebrations meant that Ambassadors were paving their future in equestrian sport and the children we serve would have access to life changing resources.

Credit: TCHS / Megan Giese Photography

The sport kicked off the following day, and before long the first riders were seated for our Adopt A Project. For some athletes it was difficult to choose, yet the project they ultimately circled often reflected personal connections to certain programs. The kids-helping-kids effort effectively built bridges between NAYC riders and JWI children. For example, Zone 4’s Junior Team silver medalists and Asociatión Compartir’s Mobile Education students in rural Honduras. 

Credit: TCHS / Megan Giese Photography
Credit: TCHS / Megan Giese Photography

“We chose [Honduras] because through this program they provide art supplies, puppets, recreational equipment and games, which gives children the opportunity to explore extracurriculars and other passions. We know how important it is for us to have our passion, horseback riding, and how that makes us better and more passionate people. I think it’s a great opportunity to give these children something beyond just school and something they can explore for themselves,” Albelo explained with evident passion in her voice.

JWI Ambassador Alexa Elle Lignelli, Zone 2, Junior Team Jumping bronze medalist, was just as eager to share her team’s thoughtful decision.

“We chose medical services and medical supplies in Guatemala. I’ll speak for my teammates when I say after COVID we knew that there was a need for medical supplies. We know how hard developing countries were hit by the pandemic. In general, we want to help countries that don’t have enough medical resources for the people that need it,” said Elle Lignelli.

The next generation of riders are not only changing the landscape of the equestrian sport, but engaging in forward thinking discussions about mental health and the necessary support systems.

“We decided to pick the Trauma Therapy program in Guatemala, because as a team we believe that therapy is super important to the younger generations so that we are able to discuss hard things in our lives, and break through them,” explained Cristian Hacker, Zone 4, Pre Junior Team Jumping silver medalist.

For developing riders, NAYC is one of the foremost international opportunities that North America has to offer, and the magnitude of the competition is not lost on them. The career changing nature of NAYC goes beyond the sound of the buzzer or the final salute. It offers athletes the chance to build relationships with each other, their horses, and philanthropy with JWI.

“It means a lot for me to be here. We started qualifying in January and it’s just a really big championship,” said Scarlett Wallis, Pre Junior Team gold medalist. “It means a lot to me to be an Ambassador to be able to help kids all around the world through what I love doing. I think Adopt A Project is really awesome because whether you’re a JustWorld Ambassador or not, everyone on the podium has a chance to learn about JustWorld and make a donation.”

Credit: TCHS / Megan Giese Photography
Credit: Ana Sofia Rodriguez Photography

Through Adopt A Project, the idea of becoming a JWI Ambassador is something which intrigued many of the panel’s athletes who hadn’t had a chance to connect with the organization before. It is also through stories of positive experiences from rising stars like Ambassador Lexie Kment which helped grow the JWI family at NAYC.

“Being a JustWorld Ambassador is a super cool opportunity to represent both the equestrian side and doing something in the world. This is a way that I can promote something bigger than myself, promote something that will have a long lasting effect on people all around the world,” explained Kment, Zone 4/6, Junior Team Dressage gold medalist.

Whether NAYC attendees were JWI Ambassadors, supporters, or just equestrian community members eager to learn more, TCHS provided the world class platform to share JWI’s crucial mission to support children in impoverished communities. JWI banners with bright purple and blue hues caught your eye as you walked from ring to ring, while the visions of children laughing and learning played in film over the big screen during intermission. Announcers found every opportunity between horses to share information about the comprehensive education, healthcare, and nutrition programs. The JWI jump was proudly worked into the courses, and perhaps the favorite element of JWI’s jumping Ambassadors.

This week at NAYC proved once again that we, as equestrians, have the power to change the world.

JustWorld International

Established in 2003, JustWorld was founded to provide equestrians with a way to support carefully vetted education programs for impoverished children around the world. Thousands of JustWorld Ambassadors from more than 40 countries have since committed to “ride for the cause” and assist JustWorld in accomplishing its mission to help build brighter futures for these children and their communities. Equestrian-based companies and events worldwide support JustWorld’s efforts, and the governing body of the global equestrian sport, the FEI, has endorsed JustWorld as its official charity partner. In 2022, JustWorld is helping improve the lives of nearly 10,000 impoverished children around the globe daily.

To donate, become an Ambassador, or learn more about JustWorld, please visit www.justworldinternational.org or @justworldinternational on Facebook and Instagram.

JustWorld International is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization in the United States and tax-deductible donations are accepted in the United States. JustWorld International has no political or religious affiliation.