Health & Fitness

Elk Grove-based fitness nonprofit finds a niche in craft beer parties

Jesse East, a Runnin’ for Rhett volunteer, pours a beer for Liz Mellinger at the Deschutes event Saturday in midtown Sacramento.
Jesse East, a Runnin’ for Rhett volunteer, pours a beer for Liz Mellinger at the Deschutes event Saturday in midtown Sacramento. scaiola@sacbee.com

Volunteers in baby blue Runnin’ for Rhett shirts worked their way through a crowd of thousands Saturday in midtown Sacramento as they sold beer tokens, rattled donation buckets and advertised their running programs at the first Deschutes Street Pub festival.

The nonprofit organization was selected by the Oregon-based beer company to be the beneficiary of the event. Though the bulk of Runnin’ for Rhett’s revenue – used to fund after-school running clubs for underprivileged youths – comes from marathon training groups for adults, they’ve found an unlikely and very profitable partner in Sacramento’s craft beer scene.

Runnin’ for Rhett was founded by Randy and Beth Seevers in the name of their son Rhett, who died of cerebral palsy at age 7 in 2004. Rhett was unable to run or walk during most of his short life, but his face lives on on hundreds of T-shirts worn by marathon finishers throughout the region.

Saturday’s street pub festival marks the 12th time in the last five years that the organization has raised a frothy glass in the name of health. In 2011, it was invited on as beneficiaries of Capitol Beer Fest – the capstone event for Sacramento Beer Week – which it has been running ever since.

Big beer parties are one of the most successful ways to raise funds in Sacramento, Randy Seevers said. Last March, the Capitol Beer Fest event produced $155,000 in profits in four hours. That kind of revenue is necessary to keep up the Runnin’ for Rhett youth fitness programs, which cost the organization about $260,000 each year.

“Runners and cyclists and health and fitness people have, ironically, really embraced the craft brew industry,” Seevers said. “I think we can see it as two separate things – one is a fundraising avenue, and one is a healthy program we can push back into our community.”

When Oregon-based Deschutes Brewery decided it would finish its national tour in Sacramento, it began searching for a nonprofit beneficiary that would inspire a sense of vibrancy and community, said Joey Pleich, field marketing manager for Deschutes. After the company heard that Runnin’ for Rhett had hosted beer events before, the decision to support their family-friendly mission was “a no-brainer,” he said.

“Runnin’ for Rhett stood out as an organization that had a mission that aligned with ours,” he said. “We’ve always tried to foster a healthy society wherever our beer is sold. We’re trying to really shine a light on what’s awesome here in Sacramento.”

Rick Hayes, a 55-year-old attendee who cycled 20 miles Saturday morning before hitting the Deschutes event, said he wasn’t aware that it was a fundraiser but was happy to support an organization that gets kids moving.

“It’s tragic to see how we as a culture have abandoned exercise and the outdoors, especially kids,” he said. “I normally drink and it doesn’t benefit anything, so I’m glad this will at least go toward something valuable.”

Seevers and his staff budgeted for just more than $300,000 in revenue for 2015, after paying $135,000 in salaries for its three employees. They’ve made $275,000 so far and should get a healthy end-of-year boost from the Deschutes event.

“As we saw the money we had to spend, we looked at the youth fitness programs and how youth health was just getting worse and worse in our communities,” he said. “We thought we’d take it to the schools, and tell them how Rhett couldn’t run, but they can. And now they are really passionate about getting out there and staying healthy, pushed by his story.”

Sammy Caiola: 916-321-1636, @SammyCaiola

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