Where Are They Now? – Alumni Profiles

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Lessons from A/U Lead to Award-Winning Film

By John Abdelnour

John and Allison Abdelnour
Allison and John Abdelnour

One of the many important lessons we learned from our time at Adventure Unlimited involves acting on inspiration in a decisive way. When floating in a hypalon raft, headed for a rock in the middle of the river in Brown’s Canyon, you don’t have time to waver indecisively. When in the backcountry on a ridge in a storm on horseback, you pause, listen, and then act on your inspiration. This lesson carries through all of our life decisions.So two months ago when Laurie Benson, marketing guru for The Savory Institute (and our former AU counselor), wrote us a brief, cryptic email regarding the TED.com Ads Worth Spreading Contest, we applied our decision making skills, reflected on the implications, asked some questions, and a day and half later found ourselves in Laurie’s vehicle, making the drive to Albuquerque to interview Allan Savory for The Savory Institute. This was a contest that had been going since October of 2010, calling for ads ranging from 30 seconds to 5 minutes that communicated advertisements in a new way. We had three days left before the contest entry deadline.

Allan Savory is the originator of a concept known as Holistic Management. His work has profound implications for turning deserts back into thriving grasslands, “restoring biodiversity, bringing streams, rivers and water sources back to life, combating poverty and hunger, and increasing sustainable food production, all while putting an end to global climate change.” After a brilliant, idea-filled interview with Allan, we rushed home and were able to submit our ad after a highly concentrated day and a half of editing. Of over 1000 entries, 24 judges at TED picked 10 winning ads and ours was one of them. We were in great company – as most of the ads were multimillion dollar efforts produced by big name marketing firms. One ad even ran during the SuperBowl.

For those of you who are not familiar with TED, it is an annual conference that brings in thought leaders from around the world and asks them to give powerful 18-minute talks about their subject of expertise. Their tagline is “Ideas Worth Spreading”. The Ads Worth Spreading contest was a challenge to marketing firms to create online ads that actually inspire people to watch and participate – either through moving imagery, a powerful, inspiring statement, or through clever humor.

So who are we? We are John and Allison Abdelnour, former AU campers, staff, directors and full-time staffers who now live in Buena Vista full time, maintain a wonderful vacation rental right here in town and own a video production company that focuses on producing authentic, thought-provoking, and entertaining video pieces for companies and organizations doing extraordinary work that need their ideas to be heard and spread.

To check out our work (including the aforementioned Savory Institute Ad and the latest A/U video), please visit: www.foresightmultimedia.com. If you are coming to BV, consider staying up in our vacation rental, The ClockTower Flat: www.clocktowerbv.com.


Joe Fitzgibbon – On the National Campaign Trail!

Joe (left) on the campaign trail

Joe Fitzgibbon, camper from 1993-2001 and staff in 2003 and 2004, is nearing the end of a race for the Washington State House of Representatives.

Joe served as a legislative assistant and policy adviser in the State House after graduating from Principia College in 2007 and is now running to succeed his former boss as she runs for the State Senate. He is hoping to represent West Seattle, Burien, and Vashon Island in the state legislature and is excited to work for environmental protection and transportation improvements.

While on the campaign trail, Joe often reminds himself of an important lesson learned while summiting 14ers while at A/U: God doesn’t give us challenges that are too big for us to surmount.  On November 2, Joe will find out if he will be joining the State House but regardless is grateful for the opportunity to give his all to what he believes in.


Matt Lauria and Michelle Armstrong

Alumni attribute success to early break at A/U talent show!

Interview by Melanie D’Evelyn

Earlier this year, Matt Lauria  wrapped the 5th season of NBC’s “Friday Night Lights,” playing the role of Luke Cafferty, a farm boy and high school football player. It was the final season, so he was honored to be a part of the incredible run. Season 5 airs on Direct TV in October 2010 and on NBC during the spring of 2011.

More recently, Matt and Michelle moved to Chicago for Matt to start filming the Fox series, “Ride Along,” in which he plays the role Caleb Evers, a young Chicago detective. Ride Along debuts February 7, 2011, the day after the Super Bowl.

Michelle has been busy performing and writing this year in Austin, TX– “Live Music Capital of the World!”  She was just signed to a new Austin-based music label and has a new band. Michelle and her band will begin recording this year and hopefully tour next year. Currently, she is playing in both Austin and Chicago and developing a fan base for her new band. Michelle’s album “Blueberries,” which was recorded last year in Los Angeles, was put on hold because of her recent career developments. For more on Michelle’s work check out her facebook page at  www.facebook.com/michellearmstrongmusic.


Joel Benson with his family Buena Vista, CO

Mayor of Buena Vista is an A/U Alumni

Interview conducted by Maree Sytsma

Nestled in the heart of Colorado is the little town of Buena Vista, – home to the Adventure Unlimited Ranches and where lots of A/U alumni have migrated “home”.  Drop by the Buena Vista Roastery, and you’ll find Joel & Laurie (Cummins) Benson and their daughter Grace.

The Bensons returned to the Valley in 2004 and spent a stint at the Ranches before relocating to town where they bought the Bongo Billy’s coffee roastery and began roasting organic, fair-trade coffees. (www.buenavistaroastery.com)

I asked Joel how working at A/U prepared him for his life work (Joel has served in the Peace Corps, and has been a certified educator for Holistic Management and he still consults for the Savory Institute.) He said the leadership experience he gained at the Ranches taught him diplomacy, how to work with people, when and how to get input, and how to initiate democratic teamwork in his endeavors.  But the most important discovery Joel made while working at the Ranches is that there is a Greater Power in charge and the knowledge of that gives him the peace to be able to work within that framework to collaborate with his community and his employees.

Joel served a term on the Town Board of Trustees, and is currently the Mayor of Buena Vista.  When he isn’t roasting coffee or wielding a gavel you might find him teaching classes at the Link School or in his kayak in the new world -class kayak park in town.

Come on in – have a cup of freshly brewed coffee and a chat with the mayor.  If you sit here long enough, everyone passes through!


Staying in touch…

One of the hardest things about heading home after camp or a DiscoveryBound event, is leaving your friends! Over time, life moves on and people go in different directions. But isn’t it a thrill when you hear from friends from the past and find out what they’ve been up to?!


Adventure Unlimited has set up an online Alumni Network on the A/U website.

It’s an easy way to reconnect or stay connected with fellow alumni. Use this network to keep your contact information up-to-date and more importantly post news and share photos. The alumni network is also a great resource for personal and professional networking. It’s true – friendships can last forever!

Register as a new user on the A/U or DB websites, if you haven’t already. Then when you login to our online community you can ~ stay in touch with other Alumni, create your own personal Network, participate in our Blogs, share photos, explore the Career Network, donate online, tell us what info you want to receive and more!

Get Connected Now>>

It’s simple—get started by:

1.    Visiting our website
2.    Get Connected (sign up to our online community – if you haven’t already)
3.    Follow the Alumni tab to the Alumni Network.

One Response to “Where Are They Now? – Alumni Profiles”

  1. katie davis

    this is a great idea. how fun to read about!! will pay more attention to Seattle election now….I’m in Port Townsend across the pond!


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