Mountain Characters: Making a difference
In January 2014, 27-year-old Tyler Hollenbach decided he would abandon his cushy corporate job, home and life in San Diego to volunteer for a nonprofit organization in an impoverished region of Guatemala.
After working in the financial assurance department of Deloitte bank for nearly five years, the Aspen native and University of San Diego alumnus said he wanted to put his education and skills to use in a more fulfilling manner.
“I wanted to see a more meaningful impact and connection between my moral values and my day-to-day work,” Hollenbach said.
He added that he also wanted to experience what it would be like to work abroad.
Hollenbach initially intended to volunteer at Alterna Impact — a nonprofit that works with Guatemalan entrepreneurs to help them achieve a more sustainable business model — for six months via the organization’s fellowship program.
More than 21/2 years later, Hollenbach is still in Guatemala and works full time for Alterna as both the country manager and director of cultivation services.
“I fell in love with everything about Guatemala — the people, the way of life here,” Hollenbach said. “I also felt a really strong connection to the work that we’re doing.”
Alterna works hands-on with business owners and entrepreneurs in several capacities that are all aimed at helping to improve their business models.
The organization offers three core teaching services, Hollenbach said, which vary according to one’s level of experience and/or education.
Alterna’s most introductory level service, for example, consists of eight two- to four-hour sessions tailored to early-stage entrepreneurs and illiterate people.
Hollenbach reported that more than one-fourth of the population in Guatemala ages 15 and older cannot read.
Furthermore, the country’s illiteracy rate spikes to more than 60 percent among its indigenous population, according to the Global Education Fund.
The majority of people who live in Quetzaltenango, the city in Guatemala where Alterna is located, are indigenous and fall into this category.
Hollenbach said the country’s educational, economic and governmental infrastructures make it extremely difficult for people to support themselves and their families.
“Financial stability is only available to very few of the people working in Guatemala,” he said. “There’s a lack of real employment opportunities.”
For the more experienced or educated business owners, however, Alterna offers more advanced teaching courses.
For instance, in its intensive four-day retreat, Alterna team members work one on one with entrepreneurs for 14 to 16 hours each day to help them improve their business methods and achieve their business goals.
Frank Sherrill, an experienced business owner who’s worked with Hollenbach since he started with Alterna, said the Aspen native is an invaluable resource for the organization.
“There are very few people I’ve met in my extensive international experience that can provide that kind of support and guidance,” Sherrill said, referring to Hollenbach’s “strategic economic planning and overall business strategies.”
“He has a very holistic, in-depth thought process, which a lot of people tend to overlook,” he said.
Sherrill also commended Hollenbach for his philanthropic efforts and “honorable” pursuits.
“Rather than going to work on Wall Street, which he’s very capable of doing, he’s decided to go down to Guatemala and share his education and knowledge,” Sherrill said, noting that it is “not the most ideal circumstances to be in.”
“Not a lot of people would do that,” he said.
Hollenbach’s longtime mentor and friend Helen Schermerhorn pointed out that Hollenbach is not your average 29-year-old.
“He is truly a remarkable human being,” said Schermerhorn, who has known Hollenbach since he moved to the Roaring Fork Valley in fourth grade. “Tyler is living proof of the maxim ‘Do what you love, and the world will love what you do.’”
“He left a successful, promising career to follow his heart,” Schermerhorn said. “He is a role model for his generation and an example of how one’s passion can be used for good.”
To date, Alterna has worked with nearly 400 social enterprises in Guatemala, Hollenbach said.
He said most of these businesses have “grown considerably” both in sales and in size, which creates employment opportunities for Guatemalans who are at risk for emigration.
Hollenbach invites anyone in the Aspen community who is interested in learning more about Alterna Impact or supporting the organization to email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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