For the first time ever, the Harness Horse Youth Foundation (HHYF) has selected an entire family--the Gibersons of Spalding, Ill.--as the recipient of its 2014 Service to Youth Award, the organization's highest honor. The Service To Youth Award is given to individuals, farms, or organizations who exemplify outstanding effort in facilitating youth participation in harness racing. Recipients show exceptional assistance (either financially or educationally as a catalyst) to existing HHYF programs or in their own successful efforts.
Not only have the Gibersons prepped HHYF Trottingbred Sweet Karen for her summer campaigns for the past three years, they have opened their barn to the public regularly to introduce people to the sport, utilizing Karen as a primary ambassador. They have also hosted an annual picnic for students from Riverton Elementary School, which their children attend. This past summer their daughter Madeline organized a fundraising concession stand to honor their departed pacer Fax Valley Camo at this year's Illinois State Fair races. The event raised more than $2,000 for HHYF.
"We try to do business right,” explains Amy Giberson. "And part of that means giving back to the sport and reaching out to our youth. But it's a two-way street. Our own kids have learned so much working with Karen.”
The Gibersons' efforts have not gone unnoticed by the general public as the Springfield State Journal-Register reported in an August 2014 story, "It's not uncommon for unexpected visitors to show up at Giberson Racing Stable located on the Illinois State Fairgrounds. They are ambassadors of harness racing. Their barn door is always open. They offer visitors a chance to jog a horse around a track, brush one and take photographs. It is particularly the couple's mission to promote the sport to youth.”
"We've never received an honor like this. We really didn't do anything other than what we always do to help kids get involved with the sport. It's so rewarding…and this award is so surprising," Giberson said.
HHYF president Marlys Pinske commented, "HHYF is deeply indebted to all of our benefactors and we are especially proud of the entire Giberson family. We welcome other families to follow their lead to assist with our important mission."
The Gibersons--Nick, Amy and their children Madeline (8) and Ethan (6)--will receive the award at the USTA District 5 Awards Banquet at the Artisan Building of the Illinois State Fairgrounds, on Saturday, Jan. 17.
The late Stan Bergstein won the inaugural Service To Youth Award in 1979 and since then a Who's Who of harness racing, including Allen Finkelson, Phil Pines, John Campbell, Doug Brown and Noel Daley have been honored. Organizations including Harness Racing Communications, Brittany Farms and Hoosier Park have also received the award. Janet Stevenson Davis was last year's honoree. A complete list of Service To Youth award recipient is posted at http://www.hhyf.org/service_to_youth.asp