Today we'd like to introduce you to Brandy Walker.
Hi Brandy, thanks for joining us today. We’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
I am co-director of Outdoor Adventure Centers/OAC Tours for short, is a family owned and operated nonprofit 501 C3 Corporation that started 19 years ago for the benefit of youth and families in our community. We are known in the Phoenix area as Adventure Encounter, the outdoor company to go to! The purpose was and still is to help people develop a passion for an active lifestyle, and reconnect youth and families with one another through the great outdoors. Now more than ever, this mission is critical to physical and mental health and beyond.
We operate out of two locations: A day camp in Glendale serving much of Maricopa County with day trips, mobile events, and camps in various locations around Arizona,with many events featured at Lake Pleasant in Peoria, AZ. We operate commercial tours and outdoor adventures as the main core of our business in Cottonwood, AZ (near Sedona) where we offer kayak tours on the Verde River, rappelling, caving, and team-building activities. This public venue benefits our youth and foster camps and events hosted throughout the year.
We are all things outdoors that include vacation activities for individuals and families, event planning for corporate needs, group adventures, scout and student events, and foster and youth opportunities that include day trips, weekend retreats, and camps. Our staff is highly qualified, professionally certified, and love what they do. 20 years of experience means we have fine-tuned what we do and offer the best experience possible. We love what we do and it is safe to say, you will too!
Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
Running your own business, especially a non-profit, is rarely smooth sailing. We were never good at asking for money for the great things we do and offer. So, we often funded the special populations we work with ourselves while working other full-time jobs and simultaneously operating the business.
We have always offered the highest level of training and education to our staff and run our tours and events on high-end equipment for safety reasons. The same budget can only be split so many ways, which means we were the ones that got the short end of the stick. We had to learn to prioritize the need to be sustainable and how to market our products to obtain growth. Many things along the way are trial and error. We thought we had it fine-tuned and then COVID happened. You always have to be willing to learn, pivot and adjust whatever is needed.
Boundaries are important and we had to learn that boundaries will keep you stable, prevent burnout and stop people from taking advantage of you, whether intentionally or not. It is true that when you work for yourself, your first 5 years, and sometimes beyond, you will likely work twice as hard for half as much. The result is worth it!
Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
We are an outdoor adventure center. We specialize in outdoor recreation, connecting with nature, and enjoying the great outdoors. We have a reputation of being “The company to go to for anything outdoors”. We are most proud of our work with foster groups and youth in our communities and have provided opportunities for thousands of youths that would not otherwise have the option.
The work we do with special populations ranges from foster children, youth, and families to scouts and youth groups, low-income school districts, youth probation programs, disabled veterans, recovery homes, and on and on. Everything we do sets us apart. We have the most experienced guides, we operate on the best equipment, and we offer the most fun! Even just bringing families together for a vacation activity fosters a reconnection with memories that will last a lifetime.
When our customers leave reviews, it is not just a 5-star review, it is often paragraphs of their experience. Our staff consists of teachers, preachers, counselors, and retired professionals that want to give back and love what we do. We were voted one of the TOP 20 EXPERIENCES IN THE USA FOR 2022 and also received the Customer Choice Award for 2022. At the end of the day, we all love what we do, how we do and the effect we have on others. No bad days on the river!!!
Is there something surprising that you feel even people who know you might not know about?
I spent most of my adult life teaching and counseling in some facet, and used to direct models on the runway. So, everything was high fashion and high maintenance! You would not know that now because I am typically in swimwear with my hair in a bun and no makeup and I would not trade it for any salary or position I held prior. Us as a business – Because we have a commercial boathouse as our base of operations, most people do not know that we are a nonprofit organization and everything we do is to give back.
Many people do not know that my husband is a retired preacher, and the business was born from his years of ministry as a youth pastor taking his groups into the great outdoors. It was always his heart to meet people where they are at.
What we do is really from the heart. Changing lives and providing opportunities are why we do what we do. If we can help you to enjoy and appreciate nature in the process, then we are changing lives and maybe preserving the environment!
- $95 guided kayak tours
- Discount pricing for nonprofits and groups
- $165 Adult/Child Combo
- 15% Veteran Discount
- $65 Lake Paddles