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Volunteers rappel off 16-story hotel to raise funds for at-risk youths in Sacramento

Watch volunteers step off the roof of a 16-story Sacramento hotel for charity

Roughly 60 people volunteered to step off the roof of a hotel in downtown Sacramento on Friday, June 8, 2018, and rappel 16 stories for the charity Stanford Youth Solutions, a Sacramento organization that provides programs for at-risk youth.
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Roughly 60 people volunteered to step off the roof of a hotel in downtown Sacramento on Friday, June 8, 2018, and rappel 16 stories for the charity Stanford Youth Solutions, a Sacramento organization that provides programs for at-risk youth.

Roughly 60 people actually volunteered to step off the roof of a hotel in downtown Sacramento on Friday and rappel down 16 stories to the sidewalk below.

But these weren't thrill seekers or adrenaline junkies – just brave volunteers trying to raise awareness and funds for a good cause.

The "3rd Annual Over the Edge" event was put on by Stanford Youth Solutions (SYS), a Sacramento organization that provides programs and services to help at-risk youths and their families who are in difficult circumstances and empower them to solve serious challenges that threaten their ability to stay together.

Just before 8 a.m., Sacramento State's mascot Herky the Hornet and Jody Nelsen, wife of the university's president, were the first two to take the plunge off the side of the Marriott's Residence Inn on 15th Street, while a small crowd of people below shouted "Stingers up" as they descended down the building.

Jody Nelsen is scared of heights, and she said going over the edge of a 16-story building was the last thing she ever thought she would do.

"But Stanford Youth Solutions helps so many at-risk and foster youth, and when I think about how frightened some of these youth must be, given their life circumstances, then I know that overcoming my fears and going over the edge is the least I can do," said Nelsen. "And I’m very proud to be doing it with our Sac State team.”

Lots of nonprofits do fundraisers, but SYS wanted to do something different, said Laura Heintz, the organization's CEO.

Heintz, who is also afraid of heights, said it was terrifying at the top. But each year she has volunteered to face her fears and be one of the people who rappels during the event, otherwise known as an "Edger."

This fundraising event serves as a metaphor for the work her organization does, Heintz said. It supports and empowers people to overcome their fears, just like the at-risk youths in the SYS programs.

“Our youth, when we step up on the edge, that’s where they are," said Heintz. "Our job is to get them off the edge.”

Event participants could sign up as an individual "Edger" or people could band together for a team fundraiser. Individuals had to raise at least $1,000 to be eligible to rappel, while teams had to raise a total of $1,000 per member. There was also an option for employees to nominate their boss in what was called "The Toss Your Boss!" option of the event. Nominated bosses could also nominate another employee to take their place if they matched whatever amount their employees had raised.

According to the event's website, all participants received fundraising tips and support, a T-shirt, professional photos of the rappel and entry for a chance to win raffle prizes. Those who raised $1,500 or more also received tickets to the "Party Beyond the Edge" Friday night, an event celebrating the successes of SYS families featuring a dinner and live auction.

California State University, Sacramento, a sponsor of the event, has a partnership with SYS through the university's Division of Social Work Department that provides internships for undergraduate and graduate students pursuing a degree in social work, according to a university spokesperson. About 24 percent of the employees who work at SYS are current or former Sac State students.

Sacramento State President Robert Nelsen was also in attendance at the event to support his wife and other members of the university community who participated.

"It’s been 43 years with that woman; I don't want to lose her now," Robert Nelsen joked before the event started.

Jody Nelsen made it through the "really scary" experience just fine, and even said it wasn't so bad once you got going. However, she was happy to be back on the ground again.

Former Sacramento County Sheriff John McGinness. also volunteered to go "Over the Edge," and said he was happy to support what he called a "very good cause."

“It’s a bit exhilarating," said McGinness. “I kinda liked the rush of going over the edge.”

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