RTCA relocates to Kentucky

Updated: January 17, 2010, 1:59 AM ET
By Claire Novak | Special to ESPN.com

GEORGETOWN, Ky. -- When the Race Track Chaplaincy of America shifted offices from California to Kentucky's Georgetown College this month, the move was more than physical. Part of the RTCA's plan to develop a stronger presence among leading organizations in the Thoroughbred industry, a location near Lexington, the "Horse Capital of the World," was key to boosting the non-profit group's visibility. Then there's the fact that Hollywood Park, the organization's home for the past 10 years, was under serious threat of demolition.

"We'd wanted to relocate from California for a number of years," Dan Fick, RTCA president and former executive director of the Jockey Club, said. "Hollywood Park was a great landlord, but the cost of doing business on the West Coast was significant, and the office didn't even open until noon Eastern Time. We thought it important to be more centrally located, and it just made sense with so many national organizations based in Kentucky."

The RTCA's strategic alliance with Georgetown, an interdenominational liberal arts college, had actually been in place since 2008 when directors signed a working agreement. Georgetown also connected the organization with development director Paul Ransdell, a fundraising expert who brought more than 20 years of experience in major gift development with colleges and universities to the table when he joined the RTCA staff in Aug. 2009. Ransdell is part of the organization's plan to reach beyond the often-exhausted resources of the racing industry to seek funding among evangelical Christians.

"We've fundraised in the industry, which has been very supportive, but we'd like to find just as much support from Christians who don't know as much about racing," Fick said.

Founded in 1971 to minister to the spiritual, physical, emotional, and social needs of individuals involved in the horse racing industry, the RTCA trains and oversees track chaplains who are paid by local chapters to work at racetracks across the country and around the world.

"Our ministry service is holistic; we emphasize the spiritual growth which is a priority for us, but our chaplains are also involved in the other dimensions," Dr. Enrique Torres, executive director for the RTCA, said. "There are a lot of drug and alcohol dependencies among people who work on the racetrack, and our chaplains are trained to help them or refer them to an organization that can help. Most chaplaincies also have a pantry where we provide food and clothing. If the person is sick, the chaplain will bring them to the hospital. If they need to shop for food and don't have transportation, he'll take them to the store. And we also work with a large majority of Hispanic people, teaching them English as a second language and working with organizations like the Race for Education to provide opportunities for college education."

Recruiting and training track chaplains will also be a primary goal of the RTCA's connection with Georgetown, as students from the school's equine and ministries programs now have the option to team with the non-profit group in educational and internship roles. Leaders from both organizations have talked about the opportunities for students to complete mission trips to racetracks, offering assistance to chaplaincy programs that are already in place.

"What we're trying to do is focus on making sure our chaplains have the education and skills to do this job, and once they're assigned to a racetrack, to provide continuing education opportunities for them," Fick said. "Georgetown is very interested in online education and that's something we'd love to provide for the chaplains in addition to our annual meeting and chaplain school."

The annual meeting is scheduled for April 13-15 at Georgetown College.

"If RTCA chaplains are perceived as anything less than your typical hospital chaplain or military chaplain or prison chaplain, that's not good enough," Ransdell said. "We want to have exemplary chaplains that are second to none, and that's a big emphasis at the RTCA."

Along with Ransdell, the RTCA recently brought consultants Kathey Golightly Sanders and retired Army Chaplain Dr. Bob Barnard on board. Sanders will work to develop an operations manual approved by the national office, and Barnard will work to update the organization's current training methods.

"Right now the overall picture that the RTCA supervises is a sort of loosely-knit one," said Ransdell.

"Counsels are doing what counsels are doing -- they're doing very well at certain places, and at other places they could do better. What national wants to do is give them a model of best practices, things that work in New York and things that work in California, ideas and recommendations and putting that all into the form of a usable resource."

"We've been planning this move and this development for the last six years now," said Torres, who will maintain an office in the college's diversity center. "We are very thrilled that Georgetown invited us to work in conjunction with them, providing facilities and professors that will be very helpful with the chaplain school. It's a very good relationship and we're looking forward to the future."

When Torres joined the Race Track Chaplaincy of America as executive director 10 years ago, the organization was represented by chaplains serving at about 47 racetracks.

"We've tripled the number of places where we're serving, and God has provided resources through the racing industry for our organization to establish new programs," Torres said. "The possibilities to establish new chaplaincies not only in the U.S. but in other countries are very good; I just came back from Germany, Switzerland, and Italy, we're exploring possibilities with Bill Nader for Hong Kong, and even in India."

"People in the horse industry are dedicated to the sport, they're passionate about the horse," said Fick.

"When you find a Christian horse person, often that person is really dedicated to the sport and to helping the people involved in it."

Claire Novak is an award-winning journalist whose coverage of the thoroughbred industry appears in a variety of outlets, including The Blood-Horse Magazine, The Albany Times Union and NTRA.com. She lives in Lexington, Ky.

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