Wexner's 15th Classic still focused on families
New Albany philanthropist Abigail Wexner founded the Columbus Coalition Against Family Violence in 1998 to help women and children in abusive relationships.
"People who might have suspected something did not know what to do," she said. "It's like they were carrying the guilt of it because they didn't know how to respond."
Wexner said she knew it wasn't an easy problem to tackle and the organization would have to remain in place for a while to make any changes. The Columbus Coalition Against Family Violence was ready to organize the business, faith and medical communities to increase awareness of the issue and provide information on proper responses.
But first, it needed to raise money.
That's where Wexner got the idea to combine the things she loved -- horses and competitive horse jumping -- with a safe, fun day for families to raise money and support the coalition.
Fifteen years later, the New Albany Classic Invitational Grand Prix and Family Day still provides activities for families and people of all ages held in conjunction with the only internationally sanctioned horse-jumping event in which 100 percent of the proceeds benefit charity.
This year's event will be from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 23, on the Wexner estate, 4584 Reynoldsburg-New Albany Road in New Albany.
Wexner said it was a risk funding her newly formed organization with a family day and horse-jumping invitational at her home.
But she found sponsors to help, recruited some of the top riders in the sport and now smiles when considering how the first few audiences reacted to whole thing, especially to the equestrian competition.
"At first, people did not understand how to behave," Wexner recalled.
She said people weren't sure when to be silent and had to be told that it was OK to cheer just as they would at any other sporting event.
Wexner said she once considered dropping the invitational and keeping the family day. But the horses stayed and the funds -- $1 million a year -- kept coming in for the coalition.
Although the coalition merged into a new organization last year, Wexner said, the event still benefits the same cause.
The coalition partnered with Nationwide Children's Hospital and the Center for Child and Family Advocacy to form the Center for Family Safety and Healing.
The new organization has moved beyond the coalition's original mission of awareness and intervention, using a "combination of public and private resources ... to fully integrate child-abuse and domestic-violence services, offering a continuum of services and expertise for victims from prevention through long-term therapy and support," according to the center's website.
Karen Days, president of the center, said the center is a place where families who have survived abusive situations can find the help and support they need.
Fifteen years ago, Days, as director of the Columbus Coalition Against Family Violence, tried to get employers to understand that they need to take an active role if one of their employees is being abused at home. She taught employees how to help a victim and she educated judges who sentenced men guilty of domestic violence to anger-management classes. She told them that their problems were not about anger, they were about control.
Today, she hires adult therapists to work with female domestic-violence victims who don't have children, a new practice for the center.
She encourages parents to allow doctors to perform a physical exam on any child who's been abused to find problems that could cause future ailments.
She educates mothers about the danger of leaving their children with a boyfriend they don't know well.
She also deals with the fact that abusers are getting younger and younger and often have to be treated as victims because they were abused themselves.
Wexner said the work of the coalition changed how she parents her four children, talking to them about the issues and educating them about appropriate behavior while recognizing the vulnerability of teenagers.
"We know how vulnerable kids are and how susceptible they are to teen pressures," Wexner said. "They want to be accepted and they want to fit in."
Her goal in coordinating the family fun side of the New Albany Classic Invitational Grand Prix and Family Day has been to provide something for everyone, with rides and games for children, sporting activities and music for teenagers and autograph sessions with riders for horse-jumping enthusiasts.
The popular Tween Brands Concert will include Nashville-based pop band Hot Chelle Rae and opening act Conor Maynard. Appearances by the Ohio State University marching band, cheerleaders and Brutus the Buckeye also are scheduled. Activities on the Tween Brands stage begin at 11 a.m.
The welcoming ceremony and horse-jumping competition begin at 2 p.m. Local competitor Gabriela Mershad will be among the U.S. Olympians and international riders competing in the invitational.
Tickets for the event are $20 for ages 11 and older. Children ages 10 and younger are admitted free with an adult. Tickets are available at thenewalbanyclassic.com.