Bigger beer for your big beer glass

Big Beers and Barley Wines festival benefits Resident Home Association

By Kevin J. Gray

Photo: Big Beers and Barley Wines begins at 4 p.m. on Oct. 11

Fall means whale hunting season for beer geeks in the Miami Valley. In the world of craft beer, whales are rare or hard-to-find beers, beers that are usually produced once or in such little quantities it can take an Ahab-like quest to get your hands on one. Big Beers and Barley Wines, held at the Roundhouse at Montgomery County Fairgrounds, brings a pod of these elusive beasts under one roof for the evening. The event, now in its sixth year, will feature 80-100 beers, ranging from huge beers like barleywines, imperial stouts and double IPAs, to limited pub releases and beers brewed specially for the event. The event offers exciting tasting experiences for those just getting into the craft and for experienced beer geeks alike.

The event is about more than drinking great beers, however. It is also a fundraiser for the Resident Home Association (RHA), a local services provider for those with developmental disabilities. Mike Schwartz, owner of Belmont Party Supplies, BrewTensils and the soon-to-open Ollie’s Place (coming to Centerville this winter) has worked with festival co-chairs Natalie Phillips and Pam Skelly for the last six years to produce a festival that not only means a good time for the participants, but also means funding for an organization doing great things in the Dayton community.

RHA is a local non-profit that, as Pete Roll, the organization’s Executive Director, explained, has a mission “to provide quality services to people with developmental disabilities.” RHA employs several means to serve its client population. “We do that in a lot of different ways,” Roll elaborated. “We do that through our residential programs, where we provide homes for people, and actually serve people in those homes; we do it with our transportation services; and we also have what we call an adult day service, where we have people we serve come in for arts and crafts. There’s a business called the Soap Factory, where people actually make some money. We also have some special programs where people do things like photography and painting. They create international dishes, things like that. There are a lot of different things we try to do to provide some meaning and quality to the lives of the people we serve.”

RHA was founded in 1966 by a group of parents with developmentally disabled children. These parents were looking for a place where their kids could be cared for when the parents were no longer able to do so.

“They formed this group called the Catholic Federation for Exceptional Children,” Roll explained. “That enabled their group to grow a little bit. It allowed them to have contact with other people in the community that also had disabled kids, and basically it was a grassroots effort to put a home together so there would be a place for people to go when the parents couldn’t provide care.”

The group’s first home was on Lexington Avenue and opened in 1969. In this home were six people, with staffing provided by several Marianist Brothers. During the 1970s and 1980s, there was a national push for deinstitutionalization – where previously, large mental health facilities once cared for the developmentally disabled, the trend during these decades was to move patients back into the community, where they could lead fuller and richer lives. The group, which evolved into RHA, opened more homes during this time, expanding their reach to include significantly more individuals.

“We now own eight homes,” Roll said. “We provide service in a total of 13 homes, and in those 13 locations, we serve 80 people.”

RHA focuses on maintaining and improving the quality of life for those it serves. Sometimes this means in-home services, with staff helping to maintain a household with several residents. About a quarter of the group RHA services also participates in enrichment activities. Adult day services offer residents an opportunity to interact with others in the community and to express themselves through work and art. “[Our residents have] done some things downtown over the years, where they’ve served as this group called the Posie Patrol, where they would go out and clean out some of the large planters in downtown Dayton – cans and cigarette butts and things like that,” Roll explained. “They also volunteered at the food bank, making sandwiches. Most recently, there was a group that went to Wegerzyn Gardens Center to clean out pots and things like that, to get them ready for spring planting.”

Residents also team up with students from Sinclair Community College. “The biggest day program we have is a senior group we have on Wednesdays,” Roll continued. “They are our older residents and they work in conjunction with the occupational therapy students from Sinclair Community College. Those students come in with a curriculum and basically they work with our residents to work on occupational skills. A lot of those things with older people require the use of some motor skills that lend themselves very nicely to art, to painting and drawing and small crafts and things like that. They help engage our residents, they are enjoyable for our residents to participate in, and they also help meet a need of Sinclair Community College – that their students learn how to work with people with disabilities. So, it’s a win-win situation.”

Services at RHA come from a variety of full-time, part-time and volunteer staff. The non-profit employs about 72 people, 60 of which are full time and 12 that are part-time. About two-thirds of this staff work directly with those RHA services. RHA also partners with another organization, Choices in Community Living, which provides services to the developmentally disabled adult community. Roll explained the partnership, which operates under the umbrella group Partners for Community Living: “We share a lot of the same values and the same mission,” Roll said. “We felt it was a good thing to get together with them and perhaps combine at least a little bit of the fundraising and some of our programming so we could do some things together that maybe we both couldn’t do separately.” Roll added, “The volunteer program serves the needs of both agencies, sometimes at the same time, and sometimes separately.”

Most of the work at RHA is funded through Medicaid waivers, although additional funding comes through fundraisers like Big Beer and Barley Wines, the groups’ largest individual fundraiser. Some funding also comes through joint ventures with Choices in Community Living, such as their annual fish fry, an event called Dining with the Stars and a bowl-a-thon. “We use those funds to help meet some of the things Medicaid waivers don’t cover,” Roll explained. “We have a wish list that’s established, so if we have people that have some unmet needs, and maybe it’s as simple as buying somebody a pass to a bowling league or maybe they need a little extra help in taking a vacation, we use that money to help them do the things the rest of us do and sometimes take for granted.”

It was this improvement of quality of life that attracted Mike Schwartz to the cause. Schwartz’ support for the cause has long roots. “Mike had a passion for the work that goes back beyond [the start of Big Beers and Barley Wines],” Roll noted. “We talk about the families that helped start Resident Home, back in the early days, Mike was part of a group, and his wife Donna as well, were part of a group with the Knights of Columbus, which is a religiously affiliated organization with the Catholic Church and they became pretty much involved. They felt our mission was good and they liked what we did.”

Schwartz and his wife have been active with services for the developmentally disabled for nearly four decades. “I’ve been associated with special people all my life,” Schwartz said. “I’ve got a sister who doesn’t need as much help as what [members of the population of RHA services] do, but she needs help. So I’ve always got a soft spot. I like to help people who cannot help themselves.

“I was asked to do a beer tasting, like I do over at The Trolley Stop,” Schwartz recalled when asked how Big Beers and Barley Wines started. “I told them, ‘RHA, I’m not going to do a beer tasting. I’m going to do a beer festival. And I’m going to do a good beer festival.’”

From the start, Schwartz knew the festival would be an annual fall event. “You look at all the festivals, especially, I didn’t want to step on Joe Waizmann’s [founder of AleFest] toes, so I had to pick a date that would not interfere with his” Schwartz said. “Pam [Skelly] and Pete [Roll] over at RHA picked the location.” As for the focus on specialty beers, Schwartz wanted to draw on his connections within the industry to differentiate the event. “I felt I had enough strength in the beer market to bring those beers. And there are so many beer festivals now … I was going after the seasoned craft beer drinker.”

The event has grown each year, with more and more community involvement. This has been especially true as Dayton’s craft beer scene has exploded. Schwartz, as well as co-organizers Skelly and Phillips, have worked to make the event one that not only raises money for RHA, but also promotes the growth of Dayton’s nascent craft beer industry. When asked what excited him most about the last several years, Schwartz exclaimed, “The bars and restaurants getting involved with it. That’s what that whole deal was about, if you notice in the last five or six years, I don’t know if it was because of our festival, but the interest in the specialty craft beers has really grown and that’s what we want to focus on. So there’s been a lot of growth, and I also love to see the bars and restaurants, even Bee Gees, which is a carry out. Is he a competition to me? He’s a competition, yes, but he’s also a partner in growing an industry.”

Craft beer has always been partially about supporting the community, so it is fitting this event would come at a time when groups like RHA and others need the help the most. “People with developmental disabilities who receive services are at a point right now where some of those services could be cut if the funding levels are reduced,” Roll explained. “For people that don’t have the ability to do more to contribute to their lifestyle, that’s a serious issue.

“Right now, for not only our agency, but for a lot of places that serve people with developmental disabilities, there is a lot of pressure from funding sources, a lot of downward pressure from the funders,” Roll continued. “The funding is not what it should be and there’s a chance it might be cut back further sometime in the future. So, it’s really important for us and for people that receive these services from others, not just us, that when people go vote on Nov. 4, that they think about the Human Services levy. That’s a huge thing for a lot of people in this county that receive the services for developmental disabilities as well as some other disadvantaged groups.”

Want to help RHA? In addition to donations, there are a variety of ways to get involved. RHA has a YouTube channel where visitors can get an idea of who they are, explore one of the RHA homes, check out RHA events and find out more about Big Beers and Barley Wines ( RHA is always looking for volunteers. “We like to give our residents access to just normal everyday people who want to come out and befriend our residents, participate in activities, help us at our fish fries or other fundraisers,” Roll explained. “We’re always interested in having people become interested in us and we want to share with them some the good things that we do and let them know that there are places like this out there that sometimes they would be very happy to know about and sometimes you don’t hear about it because we don’t make a lot of noise for ourselves. We’d like people to learn about us and come visit us and we’ll show them around.”

The beers at Big Beers and Barley Wines are strong, so take a cab or coordinate a ride. Parking is available at the fairgrounds, but leave time to navigate the construction on South Main Street. Food is also available for purchase at the event from Thai9, Chappy’s and Monco Enterprises.

Big Beers and Barley Wines takes place at the Roundhouse on Saturday, Oct. 11 at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds, 1043 S. Main St. The event runs from 4–8 p.m. Tickets are limited, so your best bet it to purchase them in advance. Tickets are $35 prior to the event and can be purchased at Belmont Party Supply, BrewTensils, or online at Tickets are $40 at the door, assuming the event is not sold out. Designated driver tickets can be purchased at the door for $10 each.

Kevin J. Gray is Dayton City Paper’s Resident Beer Geek. A firm believer in all things balance, when Kevin isn’t drinking craft beer, he’s hiking or biking to keep his beer belly in optimal shape. Reach Kevin J. Gray at

Kevin J. Gray is Dayton City Paper’s Resident Beer Geek. A firm believer in all things balance, when Kevin isn’t drinking craft beer, he’s hiking or biking to keep his beer belly in optimal shape. Reach Kevin J. Gray at

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