Specializing in Youth Adventures since 1981
From the BACKYARD... to BEYOND!
"Inspire children and teens through experiential education that promotes physical activity, creative learning, environmental stewardship, responsibility to others and positive life choices."
A History of Telluride Academy
Written by Founding Director Wendy Brooks
1981 - 2005
Telluride Academy began in Founding Director Wendy Brooks’ backyard in 1981 as a daycare option for single working mothers. It was organized by Wendy’s 8 year old son, Dylan, for him and his friends who all wanted to go to camp. The first week the five boys in the camp named their group Camp Telluride. Their main goal was to get out of town, so every day the counselors, Wendy Brooks, and her 12-year-old son, Demian, took the boys in the back of the family pickup truck to some nearby, fun place for the day. Tuition was $10 a week. The second year, there were more kids wanting to go to camp, and by the third year, Brooks rented two rooms and two 12 passenger vans from the Telluride School. A second group kids, ages 4-6, were enrolled and their counselor was Donna Fitzpatrick, the local Montessori Teacher.
In 1983, a dynamic new school superintendent Margaret Hatcher was hired and she wrote a grant to the Town of Telluride to fund an economic diversification project which supported enrichment education for the community via Telluride Academy. With the $10,000 grant she received, she hired Brooks to work for the district to organize after-school programs, adult night school and summer programs for all ages. Camp Telluride was folded into the District’s offerings. More than 100 people attended the new Telluride Academy programs in the summer of 1984; of those 37 attended adult fall classes. The Academy’s goals were to diversify the limited curricular offerings of a small rural school district, to provide meaningful employment for a core of extracurricular local outdoor educators (winter ski instructors) and to offer safe affordable child care for parents who worked in the growing summer tourist industry.
During the winter of 1985, the Academy began expanding in a number of different directions. A Ski Academy was established in hopes of boosting revenues and enrollment in Telluride High School which, at the time, had only 37 students. Seven students, mostly second homeowners’ children, attended the first 10-week winter Ski Academy program. They lived with host families, attended five hours of classes and four hours of ski lessons daily. The Ski Academy ran for six successful winters, until the high school’s enrollment reached a point where additional students were a burden, not a bonus. A grant was written and funded to begin a satellite college campus in Telluride, via Western State College; five classes began during the fall of 1986 and the “college” offered classes for three years, until grant funding was exhausted. The Academy partnered with the Telluride Baseball Camp, founded by local coach Doug Nurnberg and his friends from Phoenix, and administered this three week camp of 200 boys for 12 years. The Academy also partnered with the Telluride Jazz Festival to offer a summer Jazz Camp for more than 100 middle and high school musicians. This camp was based in Telluride for eight years before moving to Boulder. The Academy also became the administrator for the Telluride Summer Research Center, a global think-tank of chemists and physicists who began meeting in Telluride for one or two week workshops during the summer. In the mid-80s the Telluride Schools already had a computer laboratory which was attractive to them. Participation in the TSRC programs grew from seven founding members to more than 250 by the time the Academy handed the TSRC administrative function over to the Pinhead Institute in 2002. The Academy’s summer offerings and total enrollment continued to grow each summer.
In 1987, the Academy first hired Sally Davis to begin a theatre component for the Academy and hired Dee McAdams from the North Carolina Outward Bound School to begin a rock climbing program. Because rock climbing was considered so risky in those days, a supplemental insurance premium of $1,700 was added to the Academy’s $2,900 annual premium!
Then, in 1989, the school board voted to discontinue Academy programs. After the state re-allocation of school tax funds, ski towns lost revenue and the district could no longer afford to underwrite enrichment programs. In 1990, the Telluride Academy, under the guidance of Erik Fallenius and Steven Gluckstern, became a 501c3 non-profit organization, and Wendy Brooks became executive director of the new non-profit. The school district rented rooms and vehicles to the organization so that services continued uninterrupted.
In the early 1990s, program diversification continued in earnest in an effort to retain older students and to help kids use the skill sets they acquired in their younger years. Camp Telluride fostered “Enrichment Camps” where camp veterans could student a particular subject during their Camp Telluride day. Regional trips were initiated for the 8-14 year old's where camping and climbing skills were honed and new terrain was explored. Theater programs multiplied with the addition of Moving Mountain Theatre and Circus Holus Bolus as well as introductory one week programs for the youngest thespians. Enrollment grew as the second homeowners population in Telluride exploded and their children fell in love with camp. In 1990, there were more second homeowner children in camp than there were locals for the first time, and total enrollment topped 300 kids per summer. The staff grew as well, and the Academy became an organized and efficient local non-profit. Without the School Board as overseers, it was necessary to build a strong and cohesive Board of Directors to create efficient operating policies. Under the oversight of Gluckstern and Fallenius, this began to happen. The board grew to nine members by the mid-90's. The cost of operations soared once the Academy broke with the school district in the form of classrooms, vehicles, insurance, accounting and legal aid. Consequently, tuition was raised. At the same time, grants, fundraising events like Casino Night and a private donor solicitation drive were initiated to close the gap and to allow the Academy to begin offering financial aid to local students so that it did not become a camp full of out-of-town children to the exclusion of locals.
In 1990, the Academy’s first international program began with a visit to Telluride by 17 Soviet baseball players and coaches. Inquiries for beginning a Soviet-American exchange were initiated through Stephen Rhinesmith, a Ski Academy parent who was Ronald Reagan’s State Department director of Soviet Affairs. The Soviets would interact with us, he said, if we could offer them baseball, a new Olympic sport with which they were very unfamiliar. After hosting the Soviets in Telluride, the Academy went to the Soviet Union (later Russia, Lithuania and Ukraine after the break-up) for four summers. Lead by Wendy Brooks, coach Doug Nurnberg and translator/coordinator Leyla Wefalle, the Academy boys of summer broke new ground offering clinics for kids throughout the western republics of the old Soviet Union. In 1994, this program was discontinued due to graft, corruption and declining security in the republics.
In 1993, based on complaints from girls about not being eligible for the international baseball programs, the Mudd Butts International programs began with a trip to Czechoslovakia for a two-week interactive theatre exchange with a small school in Nitra, Slovakia. Like the Soviet Union break-up, Czechs and Slovaks had split their country a short time before Academy thespians arrived. Mudd Butts International exists to this day. More than 90 student participants have been to 11 different countries including Slovakia, Costa Rica, Bahamas, Ireland, Brazil, Guatemala, Mexico, New Zealand, Bali, Vietnam and Turkey. The goals of this program are to take students to places their parents would never vacation, to immerse them in foreign cultures through home stays and to create an interactive, bi-lingual theatre production for each host village. This program has created many competent teen diplomats and is a tribute to the stunning skills of Sally Davis and her teams.
In 1996, The Glucksterns initiated a drive to create a board of trustees and to build an endowment that would stabilize the Academy well into the future. Seven founding trustees pledged $5,000 per year for five years each.
In the year 2000, there were more than 1,000 program spots for kids in almost 100 different program offerings. With 700 children enrolled, the issue centered on growth vs. intimacy. Should the Academy continue to grow indefinitely or should a maximum size student population be established with the necessary budget adjustments that this policy would mandate? The board decided to cap enrollment at 800 students in Telluride-based programs, or 250 students per week, which required a staff of 40 full-time summer employees and another 50 part-timers.
In 2003, Wendy Brooks resigned as executive director to become a part-time historian and trip leader. Doug Bartlett was executive director for 18 months before leaving for a residential camp position. Telluride resident Emily Dresslar was hired as the newest executive director in April 2005.
In 2004, the Academy broke the $1 million mark in revenues, hosted international trips to Vietnam, Costa Rica and Bhutan and in 2005, the Academy broke enrollment records serving more than 800 local, regional and visiting children and celebrated more than 25 years in the Telluride Community. The Academy is comprised of families who return year after year, and who encourage their children to progress through series of increasingly challenging programs. A group of talented, skilled, healthy kids exists who are proud to wear the well-recognized Telluride Academy T-shirt.
2005 - 2012
The Telluride Academy Continues
Written by: Elaine Demas (with assistance from Larry Rosen)
In 2005 & 2006 I served the last two of my 6 years on the Academy Board of Directors as President. It was a challenging time for the Academy. With our Founder Wendy Brooks stepping down as Executive Director in 2003, the Academy needed a new leader and those were big shoes to fill. Emily Dressler served as the Organizations Executive Director from 2005-2009. Thanks to a strong Administrative Team consisting of Nancy Parkinson as Program Director and Larry Rosen as Finance Director and then ultimately Luke Brown as Program Director and Teresa Brachle as Registrar, the Academy continued to offer incredible programs to hundreds of students every summer and attracted the best Instructors available.
In the Fall of 2008, partly due to the growth of the Telluride School District as well the growth of the our own Organization’s year round staff (a full time Registrar was added ), the Academy left its tiny home located in the Telluride High School. The Academy signed a lease with James Loo and moved into the historic Silver Bell Building in the center of town. The plan was to sub-lease some of the space to other non-profits and begin offering after-school programming to utilize the larger accommodations provided by this new home. Sub-leases were signed with Telluride Dance Academy, One Telluride and Bright Futures and the Academy began an after-school program (Apres’ Academy). The building quickly became a busy place. Then in 2008 the economic downturn hit. We were not able to attract enough students for after-school programming and after one short season in 2009, Apres’ Academy was discontinued. In the summer of 2009, at the encouragement of the Board of Directors, Emily stepped down as Executive Director. Because the existing Registrar, Teresa Brachle had already resigned a few weeks prior to Emily’s departure, it left just Luke and Larry to close out the summer and begin working on 2010 grant writing as well as the creation of the 2010 schedule and brochure. In October of 2009 Larry and Luke hired Pamela Shiffrin as the Academy’s new Registrar and I began as the Academy’s new Executive Director in January of 2010. In the fall of 2010, the Academy’s registration process was completely redesigned to be 100% on-line which streamlined the entire process and saved thousands of pieces of paper every year. We instituted a $25.00 per student/per year registration fee to cover the cost of the implementation and software fees which now (two years later) has become a small and consistent revenue source for the Organization. Also, in the fall of 2010 the production of the Academy’s annual catalog was streamlined from a 40 page glossy brochure to a one-page large fold-out format. Marketing efforts were focused on a new website that was designed in-house and linked directly to our new on-line registration system. That same season (the fall of 2010) the economic downturn continued to grip the Telluride community and as Silverbell sublease renewals became due, most of our tenants chose not to renew their leases. Paying the monthly rent became a substantial drain on the Academy’s financial situation and in 2011 we began looking for a new home. In May of 2011, the Academy took advantage of the down turn in the value of regional real estate and purchased a small commercial condominium at the base of lift 7 in the Cimarron Complex. In the fall of that same year we embarked upon the Academy’s first ever capital campaign to help pay for our new home. We completed our capital campaign ($307,000) at our holiday party in December of 2013 and now reside rent/mortgage free in our small, but very functional year-round administrative office. Telluride Foundation awarded a $75K special initiative grant to help us reach our goal so quickly.
In the spring of 2011, board members of the Horizon Club approached us requesting that we take over their popular/long-standing after-school climbing program. Although the existing Horizon Board was a dedicated group, they had come to the conclusion (at the urging of the Telluride Foundation) that the best way to keep the program going was to merge with another non-profit; one that they felt would not only honor their history but also provide the necessary skills and resources to keep the program alive and oversee its growth into the future. After many meetings and much discussion, the Academy Staff and Board of Directors agreed (should the Horizon Club dissolve) to begin offering an after-school climbing program utilizing the climbing wall located in the Telluride Middle/High School. The Horizon Climbing Club did dissolve its non-profit organization. The Academy received all of their assets (one 15 passenger van, $9,635 in cash, a $1,050 insurance refund & $5,000 from a previously promised Telluride Foundation grant and some climbing equipment). Programming began on Sept 12, 2011 and the response was incredible. In the Fall of 2012, the program was expanded to include 5 days of after-school climbing and a one-day-a-week mountain biking program. The Academy now proudly offers year-round programming. Our year round Administrative staff now consists of 5 people who we feel represent the strongest Administrative team the Academy has have had.
Elaine Demas – Executive Director (served on the Board 2002-2006) Executive Director since 2010
Luke Brown – Program Director (Academy Instructor 2002-2005) Program Director since Nov 2006
Ashley Smith – Program Director/After-school (Academy Instructor 2008-12) ASPD since 2014
Larry Rosen – Director of Finance (Academy’s Administration since 2002)
Kelly Sheedy – Registrar/Office Manager (Academy’s Administration since 2013)
2013 - 2016
Today, Telluride Academy continues to benefit from strong leadership as well as the stability of the same solid and consistent Administrative Team listed above. Over the past three years we have seen steady growth both in earned revenues ($1,265,932 in 2016 as compared to $991,555 in 2012) as well as the number of children served (935 in 2016 as compared to 838 in 2012). Our local numbers have also grown and in 2016, due to a significant outreach to our local Latino community we hosted 50 new Latino students (a 500% increase over 2015). Our After-school programming has also grown from serving 112 students in 2012 to 162 in 2016. Over the past three years we have added a Global Awareness program to our popular rock climbing and mountain biking after school programs. Our International offerings have had varying degrees of success with MBI not running for two years (2013 + 2014) but picking back up again in 2015 & 2016. We have also run three very successful summer International programs Costa Rica in 2013, Guatemala in 2015 and Ecuador in 2016. These programs were attended primarily by full-pay non local children. Over the past few years we have purchased a new 15 passenger van (sold our old one) and a large 24-foot trailer to provide safe storage for our inventory of gear, which over the past few years has grown to include 20 inflatable kayaks, 30 SUP Boards, 100 tents and gobs of camping, boating and climbing equipment. We have also purchased a Ford F3-50 Diesel truck to pull our new trailer. The truck also serves as our primary boating rig all summer long hauling boats and SUP’s all over the region. In the summer of 2015 we also purchased an old Toyota 4-Runner which we use to pull our SUP trailer to support our daily flat-water SUPPING program all summer long. The funds for all of these purchases came from fundraising events and/or operational surpluses. Our old Suburban (purchased in 2011) is still running strong too! Worthy of note: We have bought most of these new vehicles and trailers from Dick Kearney, who owns Norwood Storage. Not only has he given us deep discounts on everything we have purchased from him, he has also generously allowed us to store all of our vehicles at Norwood Storage, free of cost.
In 2015, during a renovation and new addition to the Telluride Intermediate/High School, our old climbing wall was demolished and converted to a Black Box Theater. Due in part to the Academy’s public support of the District’s Bond issue to fund their expansion, as well as our strong relationship with the District, they agreed to replace our old climbing wall with a new state-of-the-art climbing facility. Although ultimately we did agree to pay the additional cost to add a new bouldering section to be included in the wall design and construction ($22,000 which we raised at our Holiday party in 2015) our community ended up with a brand new climbing wall (at a cost of $174,797 to the Telluride R-1 School District). The first after-school climbing session to utilize the new wall took place in the fall of 2016. Just like the “old wall” the new wall is owned by the district but Telluride Academy owns all of the equipment (holds, auto belays, ropes, helmets, shoes etc.) and we continue to work closely with the school district on the management and operating plan of this new climbing facility, the largest in any public school in the state. Telluride Academy is presently in a very strong operational and financial position. Since 2011 we have ended each year with an operating surplus ranging from $11,387 to $44,161.
2017 - 2019
Written by Luke Brown
Updated February 2019
Telluride Academy has recently undergone an administrative transition with the departure of our former Executive Director, Elaine Demas. On May 1st, 2017 Luke Brown took the helm as the Academy’s Executive Director. With a renewed focus on the essentials that sustain Telluride Academy, Luke worked with the remaining Academy administration to allocate responsibilities and forgo filling the 5th full-time administrative position and manage the Academy with 4 full time employees. The overall goal of this effort was to lower administrative overhead and ease the burden for “TBD fundraising” and a reliance on seemingly long-shot grants as a source of funding.
2017 represented a record-breaking year in financial assistance with total giving surpassing $214,000! Through Telluride Academy’s Early Bird Assistance program, tuition assistance and works study program we saw an increased amount of request for assistance from our local community.
Our summer 2017 programs and student numbers were on par with the record breaking 2016, however there was a decline in enrollment in our “premium” programs such as MBI India and Cuba. Pair this with a non-Circus year and an over-ambitious 2017 tuition goal and you have the makings for a financial shortfall. Luckily, through a successful Membership Drive and some late season fundraising, we never had to draw on our endowment (although approved by the Financial Committee) and were able to sustain the organization through to 2018. So far in 2018, we have strong numbers in our “premium” programs such as MBI Galapagos, summer Guatemala and SoCal programs and our Circus Holus Bolus. New in 2018 is a board-driven campaign to sustain our Early Bird program and incentivize families to only “take it if you need it”. Reflecting on the 5-yr historical giving that results form our annual Early Bird Discount program, it was decided that our efforts are better served raising funds for families that demonstrate a financial need through our focused Tuition Assistance program. Also, of note is our second summer of committed collaboration with Cindy Farny and the High Camp property. With a long-term vision and goal of potentially someday taking over the High Camp property “in perpetuity”, we are forging a long-term relationship with Cindy and her staff with the intention of offering quality and consistent high alpine programming experiences at High Camp. In 2018, we offered 9 weeks of dedicated programs scheduled to utilize the property with a backup program each week should our “Option A” programs not run. In conjunction with these programs is our commitment to financially supporting a dedicated High Camp Program Director. This position is being created to ensure program quality and consistency through focused curriculum and facilitation. Matthew Guertin (former TA instructor) will fill this role in 2018 and a portion of his salary will be funded by our High Camp program tuitions. It is the long-term vision and goal to have TA manage this property and begin benefiting from a year-round location that represents opportunities to connect with a non-TA student base and begin offering programming to schools, universities, corporate groups, retreats, etc.
Our 38th summer was an extremely successful one! We ran 117 unique programs, a sold-out 2018 MBI trip to the Galapagos and ended the summer at over 91% capacity! We served over 900 students and filled over 1,500 program spots! We have awarded over $201,000 in tuition assistance with $46,600 being awarded through our Bi-cultural outreach program. Summer tuition came in at $1,121,832 and $9,100 over budget for 2018 and $44,000 over the Academy’s three-year average!
Our focused “Take it if you NEED it” Early Bird campaign did solid work with a reduction in Early Bird giving coming in $12,000 under 2017’s amount! This equated to more financial assistance being available to award through our need-based channels.
Our administrative team continues to change and transition with the departure of Program Director, Ashley Smith. Ashley announced her desire to move into new arenas of employment beginning in October of 2018. Ashley has over a decade of experience with Telluride Academy as a Field Instructor, Grant Writer, After-School Program Director, Field Director and finally as Program Director. Ashley has been an incredible contributor to Telluride Academy in so many roles and her absence will be greatly missed! Starting in early October, the Academy admin team collaborated on an organized and detailed PD outreach campaign. All current and former TA instructors were invited to apply for the PD position. Any and all applicants were first invited to an informal Q & A with the Executive Director to learn more about the intricate details of the position, job requirements, timelines and expectations. If after this process, an applicant was still excited about the prospect of the position, they were invited to submit a cover letter and application and partake in a structured interview with Executive Director, Luke Brown. Finally, the top 3 candidates remaining after this process were invited to a “coffee talk” with Larry and Kelly before a concerted group effort to offer the position to the strongest candidate. This was a healthy and much needed process for the organization to go through to appropriately address the previous year’s changes and transitions. It was with great excitement and enthusiasm that the administration unanimously agreed on the hiring of Sophie Fabrizio as the new TA Program Director! Sophie demonstrated a high level of professionalism, passion and tenacity for the position. Sophie started in her new role in October of 2018 and has been surpassing expectations and deadlines! The Academy team has been at a stable and highly functioning number of 4 full time members since October.
Lastly, it has been announced by our beloved Mudd Butt creative team of Kim, Sally and Mike that 2019 will represent the FINAL year for both Mudd Butts International and our summer Mudd Butt Mystery Theater. This decision did not come easily for our creative team of theater, dance and artistic specialists! We are currently in the early stages of discussing the best “next steps” for the legacy of this program as well as appropriate ways to honor the incredible legacy that these people and their programs will leave behind at Telluride Academy. 2019 MBI will travel to Morocco for its final performance!