Fundraiser for Samaritan House — agency serving homeless people with HIV in Fort Worth — aims for highs in participation, proceeds


GOING THE DISTANCE | Joe’s Run now includes a 10K in addition to a 5K to attract more serious runners. Participants numbered about 2,500 in 2011, but organizers hope to eclipse that mark this year.

ANNA WAUGH  |  Staff Writer

FORT WORTH — Rick Isaminger has been running for 30 years, completing four marathons and 20 half marathons. But for the last five years, Isaminger has been running to help his clients with HIV.

Isaminger, who serves as the support services manager at Samaritan House, also served on the planning committee for the nonprofit’s 15th annual Joe’s Run, which takes place March 24.

The run helps raise awareness of Samaritan House’s services for homeless, HIV-positive clients. It also raises money for the programs Samaritan House offers those who stay at its two locations, in downtown Fort Worth and at the Villages at Samaritan House.

“I’ve been running on and off for 30 years, and it’s really a nice run for Fort Worth,” Isaminger said. “Fort Worth can be pretty hilly, and this is relatively flat — and it’s for a really good cause.”

Samaritan House President and CEO Steve Dutton was the mastermind behind the event. After leaving the Board of Directors in 1996 to serve as CEO, he thought of the race as a way for people to learn about Samaritan House that would be affordable for the community and also serve as a small fundraiser.

“AIDS has always had a lot of baggage with it, and inviting people to come to Samaritan House to learn about what we do might not be that attractive to people,” he said. “[Joe’s Run] kind of provided a less confrontational way, just an opportunity, for people to come learn about us.”

Partnering with Joe T. Garcia’s as a sponsor, the race, then named the Race to Joe’s, began and ended at the restaurant in north Fort Worth.

But after 10 years, Samaritan House moved to the south side of downtown Fort Worth. The race now begins and ends near Samaritan House at the Magnolia Green Park at 1100 Lipscomb St.

Attendance has spiked over the last few years at 2,500, and Dutton said the nonprofit has set a goal of breaking the record for participation this year.

“We’re moving the bar out,” he said. “We expect a record turnout. It all depends on the weather.”

The run is also expected to bring in a record amount, he said, with proceeds nearing $80,000, though the original idea of the race was never to bring in much money.

“It was never conceived as a big fundraiser. It was just really a friend-raiser,” Dutton said. “It’s a friend-raiser to a great extent, and it’s continued to succeed.”

Isaminger has witnessed the continued growth of the run with the addition of the 10K as an option to the 5K to attract more serious runners, as well as a new 1-mile walk this year to interest more families and parents with young kids.

Despite all the change and growth of the event, one thing has stayed the same: the parrot mascot. Chosen because it was associated with Joe T. Garcia’s, the mascot remained despite the event moving and partnering with various restaurants near the Magnolia Green Park.

“We kept the name because it happened that we chose the logo, our pet, a parrot, and we named him Joe,” he said. “For all these years the parrot has always been there in some form or fashion.”

While living in New York, Isaminger worked at Gay Men’s Health Crisis, one of the first AIDS organizations, until he was laid off. He then decided to relocate to the area and began work at Samaritan House where he was able to do the same kind of work, he said.

But he enjoys his work more now because of the fewer clients he serves that he can give more attention to.

“The care and the level of care is much better because you really get to know your client,” he said.

Isaminger managed about 4,000 clients in New York. He said about 60 homeless, HIV-positive people live at Samaritan House. Others who are HIV-positive or have disabilities live with their families in the 66 apartments at the Villages at Samaritan House, so now he helps manage the progress of about 400 people.

“It’s so big and being at Samaritan House it’s so much better because I think everybody gets so invested in the residents because we see them all day and I think the care here is tons better and the whole environment because you really know everybody,” he said. “It really works as a team.”

Originally from North Dallas, Isaminger lived in New York City for 25 years before returning to North Texas to work at Samaritan House five years ago. As an avid runner, he enjoyed participating in races in the Big Apple and has enjoyed watching Joe’s Run blossom from a small gathering to “one of the largest races in Fort Worth.”

“When I first moved down here, for me the races were, they’re not small, but compared to what New York is they’re small,” he said.

But with Joe’s Run reaching the 2,500 attendance mark, Isaminger said the atmosphere matches the crowded races in New York.

“I like all the people and it reminds me of the races that would be in Central Park because that’s about the number of people that always popped over for a race,” he said, adding that the real draw for him is the opportunity to show the community how Samaritan House helps people. “I like it because it is for a good cause.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 16, 2012.