Alexander Rossi has never met Debbie Gillis, but he indirectly knows of her work at the Leilani Mae Horse Rescue in Linden, North Carolina. So, when it came time to choose a charity as part of the PeopleReady Force for Good Challenge, Rossi sent his winnings her way.
As part of its commitment to being a force for good and giving back to the communities they serve, PeopleReady offered $10,000 to each NTT INDYCAR SERIES race-winning driver in the 2022 season to be shared with the team and their chosen charity or charities, with a total of $1,170,000 awarded. Rossi’s reward for winning the Gallagher Grand Prix, a road course race July 30 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, was offered to the Leilani Mae Horse Rescue and AutoNation’s Drive Pink Campaign.
Today is National Giving Day.
Gillis said she opened her horse rescue in 2010 by accident. Her mother, Leilani Mae Lindgren, had been a horse lover, riding a black Percheron named Old Joe more than 2 miles each way to grade school in the fall and spring from their farm in East Grand Forks, Minnesota. Gillis said her mother, who died 10 days shy of her 56th birthday from complications related to Non-Hodgkin lymphoma, taught her to have compassion and respect for animals and nature.
“My mom never walked by animal abuse or neglect, (and) she would take action,” Gillis said. “My mother had a rough life growing up, physically and mentally, but she always took care of the animals. She often spoke to Old Joe; he must have helped her through her childhood.”
Gillis retired from the Army in 2007 and purchased 33 acres on which she hoped to stable a couple of horses. When she learned of the process of early euthanasia of unwanted horses, she decided to start taking such animals in. Today, she cares for 42.
“They eat about one round bale of hay per day, and one of those costs $65, and grain is about $250, so the monthly budget is about $3,500 if we’re careful,” she said. “They’re very well cared for and fed, that’s for sure, but we need all the help we can get.”
Rossi also grew up with horses, albeit in Northern California, and his mother, too, was passionate about them.
“I was telling a friend of mine in North Carolina about it, and she told me about the Leilani Mae Horse Rescue and the wonderful work they are doing,” Rossi said. “Making a better world for animals is something that has always meant a lot to me, so it was a perfect fit.”
Gillis appreciated Rossi’s gesture on many levels but especially because he thought of horses when others don’t.
“Horses are difficult to raise money for because not everyone has them like they do dogs and cats,” she said.
The PeopleReady Force for Good Challenge committed $170,000 to the winners of the 17 NTT INDYCAR SERIES races this season, with a $1 million bonus going to the first driver to win a race on all three types of tracks (ovals, street circuits and road courses).
Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden won the $1 million bonus after victories in the XPEL 375 at Texas Motor Speedway, the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach and the Sonsio Grand Prix at Road America presented by AMR. Newgarden won five races in all this year, and he selected the SeriousFun Children’s Network and Wags & Walks Nashville to share in the winnings.
Newgarden and Rossi were among the nine drivers to win races in 2022. Other charitable organizations benefiting include the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Conquer Paralysis Now, St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana, Speedway Children’s Charities and The American Legion.
PeopleReady Force for Good Challenge Winners
Josef Newgarden (5)
Race Wins: XPEL 375 at Texas Motor Speedway, Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, Sonsio Grand Prix at Road America presented by AMR, Hy-VeeDeals.com 250 at Iowa Speedway, Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Axalta and Valvoline at World Wide Technology Raceway
Bonus: $1 million
Charities: SeriousFun Children’s Network, Wags & Walks Nashville
Scott McLaughlin (3)
Race Wins: Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg presented by RP Funding, Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio presented by the All-New 2023 Civic Type R, Grand Prix of Portland
Charity: Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center
Pato O’Ward (2)
Race Wins: Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama presented by AmFirst at Barber Motorsports Park, Hy-Vee Salute to Farmers 300 at Iowa Speedway
Charity: Conquer Paralysis Now
Scott Dixon (2)
Race Wins: Honda Indy Toronto, Big Machine Music City Grand Prix
Charity: St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital
Colton Herta (1)
Race Win: GMR Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Charity: Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana
Marcus Ericsson (1)
Race Win: Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge
Charity: St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital
Will Power (1)
Race Win: Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear
Charity: Speedway Children’s Charities
Alexander Rossi (1)
Race Win: Gallagher Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Charities: AutoNation Drive Pink Campaign/Leilani Mae Horse Rescue
Alex Palou (1)
Race Win: Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca
Charity: The American Legion