Jose Avina is making the world a better place, one spin class at a time

Jose Avina ’13 (Communication Studies) was excited when he had the opportunity last year to speak with a small business advisor about his plan to open a gym. But he got an early reality check when the meeting, which was supposed to last two hours, was over after just 20 minutes.

“He said that there are too many gyms out there, it’s a saturated industry, and that I needed to find something that would give us a niche, something that would make us different,” says Avina, who left discouraged. Then he remembered something from his time at Sac State: The WELL featured a handful of “eco” cycles – exercise bikes that generate power during use and return that electricity to the grid.

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The 16 “eco-cycles” in the spin room at Sacramento Eco Fitness pump enough electricity back into the power grid to nearly eliminate the gym’s monthly electrical bill.

Avina, a lifelong environmentalist, had his niche. In December he opened Sacramento Eco Fitness, which he says was just the second gym in the world to feature exclusively “eco” aerobic equipment. All 16 cycles in the facility’s spin room generate enough electricity to reduce Avina’s monthly bill from $680 to just $38. Soon, he’ll add an “eco-treadmill” to the mix.

The idea seems to have resonated. The gym already boasts a substantial social media following and 38 members, many of whom Avina says canceled less expensive memberships at other gyms to be part of a facility on the cutting edge of the industry.

“They like the fact that we’re giving back to the environment and the community,” he says.

Avina came to Sacramento State initially to play soccer alongside his brother and to study communications and marketing. He went into the Marine Corps following graduation, but when he finished officer training, he had difficulty finding a job after so much time away. He eventually decided to pursue his passion and open his own business.

That’s when his time at Sac State paid off. He put out a call to his former fraternity brothers for help, and eventually seven of them – six of whom are still students – offered their photography, business, media and other skills. He also became connected with the University’s Center for Entrepreneurship, which set him up with a free work space and helped him refine his business plan. His classes came in handy as well. Though he didn’t wind up in marketing, he and his team were able to effectively leverage social media platforms and build a strong following. The content was so effective that many of Avina’s followers thought he already had a gym – and that the one he opened in December was his second location.

“I had a great experience at Sac State,” Avina says. “I loved the campus, I loved the fact that it was in line with my environmentalist side, with the trees and everything, but I think the most important thing I pulled away from there was the network. When I came back and had this crazy idea for a new concept, they believed in it, went along with my idea and helped me out.”

In addition to being eco-friendly, Avina also works to make sure his gym gives back to the community. He hosts free monthly boot-camp training sessions, during which he collects donations for various charities.

He has big ideas on the sustainability end as well. He’ll travel to Italy soon to check out a floor that can harness kinetic energy and see if it can be used in the fitness industry, for example by generating power when someone drops his or her weights. And while he is in rented space right now, he hopes eventually to build a gym from the ground up – harnessing the latest technology in green energy and water collection, of course. He cites Tesla CEO Elon Musk as inspiration, someone with “a crazy idea” who never gave up.

“I’m an avid outdoorsman and I understand that the role we play as human beings on this planet is key to preserving what we have left,” Avina says. “We’re reducing our carbon footprint. Can’t change everyone’s mindset, but at least for our members, we’re doing our part to reduce the carbon footprint, and that could go a long way in the long run.”

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Sac State alum’s new nonprofit focused on fostering community optimism

Ishmael Pruitt ’15 (Criminal Justice) was in high school when one of his acquaintances went to prison for attempted murder, something he still thinks about today.

“I always wondered, what could I have done to help him, (to) give him some advice or something,” he says. “We would be playing basketball at the park years before, and the next thing you know he slowly transitioned. I saw the transition, but as a teenager I didn’t think nothing of it.”

Now a Sacramento State graduate, Pruitt is determined not to let other young people fall through the cracks. He is the co-founder of Project Optimism, a new nonprofit dedicated to enacting social change by equipping community members with a positive mindset and a belief that they can contribute to society. The organization’s programs include connecting at-risk youth with college students who can serve as mentors and sponsoring events to raise money or awareness for a variety of charities or causes.

The road from concerned teen to nonprofit founder, however, was anything but direct. Pruitt joined the Vacaville Police Department’s cadet program in high school, but didn’t enjoy it. He turned his eye toward being a probation officer, which led him to Sac State’s Criminal Justice program. That exposed him to research about how education was crucial to keeping young black men out of the criminal justice system. He tried his hand at teaching, but learned that wasn’t for him either. Then he thought about how he spent his time at Sac State.

“I reflected on all of my college experience, and it involved student development in higher education,” Pruitt says, listing off jobs he held including residential advisor, tutor and peer advisor. “They all had to do with developing college students. Sac State definitely exposed me to that, and now I’m in the process of transitioning to get a master’s degree in higher education.”

For years, Pruitt had been mulling over many of the ideas that eventually became Project Optimism, but the organization didn’t get off the ground until last year when he connected with a partner, Armoni Easley, who shared his passion and dedication – as well as an attorney who agreed to help them set up the nonprofit pro bono. Project Optimism was officially incorporated as a nonprofit in January.

The organization currently has two main initiatives. The Sankofa Project – named after a Twi word that means “go back and get it” – encourages college students to serve as mentors for at-risk youths. Pruitt uses social media to facilitate connections, and there are currently about 29 mentor-mentee pairs. The other project, PI Events for a Cause (PI stands for Positive Images), raises money for various charitable efforts such as cancer research or homelessness awareness.

He and his partner also hope to launch a program that helps provide resources for the homeless, as well as expand the Sankofa Project to include connecting college faculty who are interested in mentoring college-age students. Pruitt plans to attend graduate school in Southern California, giving the organization bases of operation in two parts of the state.

Pruitt credits his parents – both of whom earned college degrees late in life – with helping him become the person he is. His mother, he says, has maintained a positive outlook on life despite hardships, while his father emphasized discipline and dedication. And he also thinks about those individuals farther back in history who blazed the trail for him and inspire him to continue paying it forward for the next generation.

“Someone down the road paved the way for me to go to Sac State and get the experience I had,” he said, “Whether it was the first black student at Sacramento State, the first African American faculty member, someone did it, so it’s our responsibility to continue to build on the legacy and help someone else get to where they want to be.”

To learn more about Project Optimism or get involved, visit facebook.com/ProjectOpimtism.

 

Alumna Cheryl Dell retires after nine years at the helm of The Sacramento Bee

Cheryl Dell, president and publisher of The Sacramento Bee, accepts her Distinguished Service Award from Sacramento State in 2013.

Cheryl Dell ’82 (communication studies) will retire after nine years as president and published of The Sacramento Bee, the newspaper announced last week.

A Modesto native who considers Sacramento home, Dell oversaw the Bee‘s operations during a time when newspapers across the country face declining revenues and readership, a problem exacerbated by the 2008 recession. But she told the Bee she is proud of the high level of journalism the publication has been able to maintain despite these challenges. The newspaper received a Pulitzer Prize in 2016 for editorial cartoons.

Dell’s 30-year career as a newspaper executive included positions at The Fresno Bee and The News-Tribune in Tacoma, Wash, before she returned home in 2008 to assume to top spot at her hometown paper.

“I love this area,” she told Sacramento State in 2013. “I am at home here. That makes it a little more special but, the truth is, publishing newspapers is a great honor anywhere.”

That same year, Dell received Sacramento State’s Distinguished Service Award, given annually to alumni who have achieved prominence in their chosen field and brought distinction to the University and/or their community through their accomplishments. She will be honored again by Sacramento State this May, when she receives an honorary doctorate during Spring Commencement ceremonies at Golden 1 Center.