Quietly Improving Lives - By Nancy Kelly

  (Originally published in the January 15, 2011 issue of The Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions at the bottom of the column.)   

Nancy Kelly is the executive director of The Jockey Club Foundation. The foundation provides assistance to individuals in the industry who have demonstrated a sufficient lack of resources and have a genuine need.

 Joe is a former exercise rider who lives in the Pacific Northwest. He is suffering from kidney disease, undergoing dialysis, and unable to work or support five kids. His wife has taken a job to make ends meet.

Julie works on the front side of a racetrack and lives in the New England area. She has a special needs daughter who has suffered the consequences of drastic budget cutbacks for autism services in her state.

Mike, a former jockey and exercise rider, was blinded in an early morning backstretch accident. He lives in Florida and is undergoing rehabilitation. He also is taking computer courses to make himself more self-sufficient. He is also battling Crohn’s disease and is unable to work.

Madeline spent her life working on the backstretch in a Midwestern state but is not physically able to do so now. She has trouble paying her rent.

Ruth lives in the Northeast. Her husband was a blacksmith and they were saddled with astronomical medical bills before his recent death. She needs living expenses to survive.

What do these five people have in common?

They are all longtime members of the Thoroughbred community and are all receiving financial assistance from The Jockey Club Foundation to improve their quality of life.

And as 2011 begins, the foundation will continue helping them and others in their time of need.

These five people have something else in common: None of them had heard of The Jockey Club Foundation until it extended a helping hand. That might be because all assistance is provided on a confidential basis, as it has been since the foundation was formed in 1943. Since then, The Jockey Club Foundation has distributed approximately $13.5 million in assistance. Financial assistance is based on individual need through one-time, lump-sum grants, short-term assistance, or through a longer-term monthly assistance program.

Recipients represent virtually every facet of the Thoroughbred industry, from jockeys, trainers, exercise riders, and grooms to office personnel and other employees of racetracks, racing organizations, and breeding farms.
The foundation is governed by a board of three trustees: New York Racing Association chairman Steve Duncker, prominent owner/breeder Helen Alexander, and longtime industry executive D.G. Van Clief Jr. All give generously of their time and are deeply committed to the mission and work of the foundation.

We have been able to expand awareness of the foundation and increase the number of recipients in the past few years with the assistance of the Racetrack Chaplaincy of America. As anyone who has spent time around the racetrack knows, chaplains are often the first to learn of an unfortunate circumstance. So they often reach out to us or send people our way.

Frequently, someone we have helped in the past will point a friend or acquaintance in our direction. There have been times when a past recipient has contacted us directly to begin the process of helping a friend or acquaintance.

We also work closely with other organizations, including Blue Grass Farms Charities, the Don MacBeth Memorial Jockey Fund, the Jockeys’ Guild, and the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund.

Assistance can come in many forms: payment for funerals, physical therapy, doctor’s bills, or medication not covered by insurance. We have frequently purchased wheelchairs and other types of equipment to help disabled people operate motor vehicles.

A few years ago the foundation provided assistance to horsemen and other victims of Hurricane Katrina. In recent months the foundation has helped Thoroughbred industry employees in California, Florida, Louisiana, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Canada.

The heartwarming cards, letters, and calls we’ve gotten over the past 25 years affirm how much people appreciate the assistance provided by The Jockey Club Foundation.

As expected, the economic downturn over the past few years has dramatically impacted charitable giving. With the exception of our Fashionable Fillies fundraising luncheon in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., each August, we rely almost exclusively on donations from individuals and organizations.

Those contributions are now more important than ever. They enable us to help Joe, Julie, Mike, Madeline, and Ruth…and many others in similar circumstances.

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