The Tidewater Browns Backers Chapter has been keeping the spirit of the Browns alive in Virginia Beach, Virginia, since 1989.
Now, 34 years later, it's being recognized by the Browns as one of the best Browns Backers chapters in the world.
The Browns are proud to award the Tidewater Chapter as the Browns Backers' annual Chapter of the Year by Browns Backers Worldwide, given to a chapter that not only exemplifies a deep passion for carrying Browns fandom to its pocket of the world but also for completing outstanding charitable efforts.
With over a dozen charities, fundraisers and volunteering efforts achieved in the past year — as well as deepening their welcoming atmosphere for everyone who steps into their bar, Sneeky Pete's, during a Browns game — the Tidewater Chapter checked all the boxes.
"Without getting teary-eyed, because I always do, it justifies what we do week in and week out," said Joe Rako, the Tidewater chapter president. "We're always doing something, but it's acknowledging my officers, my vice president and all my members. I want my people to be recognized, and I want my officers to be recognized for all their hard work.
"It's not a 9-5 job. It's not three months out of the year with the Browns (schedule), and it's not four, five, six months of the year. We do this stuff 11-12 months of the year."
From donating hundreds of dollars for toy drives, a chili cook-off that raised over $1,000 for St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital and a Polar Bear Plunge — the group's staple annual event — the Tidewater Browns Backers have been able to establish a mix of goodwill and good times to represent the Browns' fanbase with pride.
Rako, who's been president since 2017, takes pride in running a chapter that looks to complete charitable events year-round.
"I truly think that every charity we've helped all year long is an important charity, or I wouldn't do it," he said. "I don't just do stuff to do it. We try to keep it local when we can, but I believe that every charity we donate to is an important charity."
The chapter carried over 200 members last year and often sees new members join — and depart — every year due to the strong military presence in the Virginia Beach area, but Rako and his team are always on the search for new members.
The chapter's vice president, Bob Bensink, is one of those military members who looks to post ads about the chapter around his workplace. Other chapter members also have cards they'll give to others who express interest after they see one of them wearing Browns apparel or the other orange and brown items they often bring to their events.
"It's just about networking," Rako said. "It's all marketing and getting the word out there."
That's how the chapter has managed to stay strong, both in their membership and in their efforts to give back to the community.
Now, it's led toward the top of the Browns Backers world.
"Their overall reaction was pure excitement, joy and compliments," Rako said of his group when they learned they won. "We've had a lot of past members and officers who have reached out and said 'it's well deserved' and 'it's about time they recognized one of the best of the best,' and we've heard that from everybody from our chapter to other presidents.
"Our chapter has received it very well. Nobody is ashamed of what we've done."