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Business alumnus featured in O: The Oprah Magazine for building Guatemalan schools

In 2010, Fort Lewis College alumnus Josh Talmon shut down his San Diego real estate business to find a more fulfilling endeavor.

“I had all these investment properties and a nice car and a five-year plan, but I was left unfulfilled,” Talmon admits of his real estate career in Phoenix and San Diego. “I kept thinking, ‘is this what my life is going to be about? Making money, doing deals?’ I had no passion for that.”

What Talmon was passionate about, however, was the work of his two friends, Zach Balle and Heenal Rajani, who had formed the nonprofit Hug It Forward in the fall of 2009. Hug It Forward builds “bottle schools” in Guatemala, empowering rural communities’ men, women and children. Using eco-brick technology—plastic bottles stuffed with inorganic trash—the organization cleans up the environment and uses non-biodegradable waste to build a school in which local children can learn.

After joining Hug It Forward on its second school, Talmon decided he wanted to help the organization full time (he’s now the secretary/treasurer). To date, the nonprofit has completed 20 schools throughout Guatemala and one in El Salvador—and has several currently under construction.

These days, Hug It Forward is receiving international recognition for their good work and big hearts. The organization was featured in the September 2012 issue of O: The Oprah Magazine (in an article titled “Bottled Up”). The attention is flattering, but Talmon is quick to point out that the Hug It Forward team remains focused on achieving their vision: to enable every child to get an education and have a positive impact on the waste problem in developing countries. “We’re about creating a community of people doing good,” he says. “It’s about sharing each other’s skills and resources to push something forward.”

Talmon, from Durango, earned a bachelor's in Business Administration in 2004. He says FLC's liberal arts approach was valuable preparation for the path he has taken. “I always had this idea that I would become an entrepreneur, that I would be creative and come up with new ideas to solve problems,” he says. “Fort Lewis' teachers give you the flexibility to think creatively and use real-life experiences to do that.”

In early 2012, Talmon and his partners used their business skills to establish Serve the World Today, a for-profit company that coordinates “voluntourism” trips to the Guatemalan villages with which Hug It Forward works. “This idea of social entrepreneurship allows people to see the impact of their donations first hand,” Talmon says. “We really enjoy facilitating those ‘ah-hah’ moments and helping create experiences for people that will inspire them to make different decisions for the rest of their lives.”

For Talmon, that awakening happened early in his adulthood—and he said he sees the younger generation stepping up to be more conscious and aware of their impact. “There’s this shift in the way that college students learn, and I think today’s students are demanding more than textbooks and lecture halls,” he says. “I think a place like FLC is a great avenue for that. People want to use their skills to solve world problems in a sustainable way. They want to be active in it. I see the change happening in the world and I encourage it.”

Find out about Hug it Forward.

Read about Hug It Forward in O: The Oprah Magazine.

Learn more about the School of Business Administration.

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