If your vision of a polo match is a stiff linen suit and an upper lip to match, the Epworth Annual Benefit Polo Match will change your mind and have you cheering in the grandstands.
“Imagine a pick-up basketball game, only with world-class polo teams. This is polo for everybody,” says Epworth executive director Kevin Drollinger. “It’s casual, fun and completely unpretentious!” Describing the annual event as family-friendly, he adds, “This is a great day out for everyone, and it gets better every year. There aren’t many opportunities to see this exciting sport in Missouri, especially with players of this caliber.”
For the 15th year, Epworth is co-hosting the June 5 event with St. Louis Benefit Polo, the independent charitable arm of the St. Louis Polo Club. Billy Busch, an emeritus member of Epworth’s board of directors, has been a member of the club for more than 30 years. He and his wife, Christi, serve as honorary co-chairs of the Epworth Benefit Polo Match & Dinner, hosting the event at their property, Blue Heron Farm in Defiance, Mo.
“Billy is all about, What can I do to help the kids? and we are very grateful to him and to Christi for their tremendous ongoing support of Epworth,” says Drollinger. “This year they will welcome an expected crowd of 600 visitors to their beautiful farm.”
While the admission fee to the polo match, $25 per carload of spectators, benefits Epworth, Drollinger says the event is designed as a thank you to supporters, rather than simply a fund-raiser. “We think of the polo match as a ‘friend-raiser,’ because it also raises our profile, offering everyone in the community an opportunity to learn more about the mission of Epworth.”
The atmosphere might be informal, but the easygoing spirit evaporates on the polo field, where the furious pace means changing horses at least six times, Busch explains. “A match is played in six periods, called chukkers. A player will have a fresh horse at the beginning of each chukker, and sometimes more often, changing horses while the game is actually in progress.” The Epworth trophy is a significant prize and the competition is fierce, says Busch. “Over the years this match has become increasingly competitive. It’s a coveted win because this is the most popular of all the benefit games.”
Epworth Children & Family Services has been helping St. Louis children since the United Methodist Church founded the organization as a home for Civil War orphans 145 years ago. Today Epworth provides residential treatment, special education, family therapy, emergency shelter and transition programs for troubled children and families, regardless of religious affiliation.
For the last 10 years, Drollinger says, Epworth has been particularly focused on transition services that help troubled youths ages 16 to 21, who are not quite ready to live on their own and who don’t have adequate family support. “On any given day we have 500 teenagers in our care, and these kids are facing challenges that would be overwhelming without help,” says Drollinger. “They are often abused and neglected. Many are struggling with homelessness, or they are leaving the foster care system without an adoptive family. Epworth provides them with shelter, as well as ‘living’ programs designed to help them acquire the skills they need to live independently. Our goal is to help them find the strength to grow into successful citizens.”
Helping kids find strength is at the core of the Epworth philosophy, says Drollinger. “Most of our children have spent their lives very aware of their weaknesses, but have never learned about their strengths. Our goal is to help them discover their unique strengths and build on them, strengthening their capacity to thrive in society.”
On the Cover: Epworth Children & Family Services has provided youth development programs to St. Louis for more than 140 years, helping children overcome behavioral challenges and discover their strengths. The 15th Annual Charity Polo Match & Dinner benefiting Epworth takes place June 5 at Blue Heron Farms in Defiance, Mo. No reservations required. For more information, visit www.epworth.org. Cover design by Erica Fisher | Photo by Jason Mueller