AC Alum Recognized as 2018 CNN Hero

Posted on November 9th, 2018 by cnickels

Veterans Day celebrates our soldiers and marines who served this country or, in some cases, made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. But what about all those people who help our troops? The people who live in the country that is being torn apart by war. The people who risk their lives to help our soldiers communicate, navigate, and survive. What about them?

Matt Zeller, an AC Class of 2000 alum, left our campus with ideas of being a lawyer or a politician and went on to earn degrees from Hamilton College and Syracuse University before joining the U.S. Army.

In 2008 his life, and his future, changed forever.

During a battle with Taliban fighters in Afghanistan, Matt was out of ammunition and seeking safety in a ditch when a coalition force translator saw two Taliban fighters moving toward him. The translator started crawling in the bushes toward Matt, and when he got close enough, he fired at the men, killing them. Matt soon learned the name of the man who saved his life was Janis Shinwari.

Janis lived in Afghanistan and saw firsthand the terrible things the Taliban had done in his country. He decided to support the coalition forces by serving as a translator, but never imagined being on the front lines of battle. Janis met Matt just 10 days before saving his life. Dressed in fatigues and carrying ammo, Janis looked, and served, like any other coalition soldier — except when it came time to go home. Matt was sent home to safety in the United States, while Janis stayed on, serving more missions, and continuing to live in a country where he was not safe. He served as a coalition translator for nine years. Local nationals who help coalition forces are added to a list by the Taliban. Bounties are placed on their heads and the heads of their families. Hit teams are sent out to find them, kidnap them, and torture them. Unless they can get out.


“Interpreters and translators should be treated like the war heroes that they are.” – Rep. Seth Moulton (D) Massachusetts


In 2006 and 2009, the U.S. government established Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) programs to help Iraqi and Afghan translators move to safety in the United States. A limited number of SIVs are authorized every year for Iraqi and Afghan nationals who have worked for, or on behalf of, the U.S. government in Iraq or Afghanistan. Nationals must apply for these programs with a recommendation from their U.S. supervisor and an explanation of the threats they are facing in their home country.


“My interpreter was absolutely critical to me every single day. He helped me understand what I was hearing. He helped me work my way through the translation of what was being said to me. And I think, more importantly he put that in context to make the kind of decisions I had to make as a division commander and a multi-national corps commander. He was absolutely essential to my mission accomplishment.” – General Peter Chiarelli


Matt was able to help Janis get to the states after nearly five years of hard work. When Janis and his family finally arrived, Matt held a fundraiser to help him buy a car for job interviews, go grocery shopping, and take his kids to school. Janis was overwhelmed by the generosity extended to him and his family, but he wouldn’t accept the money offered. Instead, he asked Matt to put it towards helping other translators left behind in Afghanistan.

That’s when No One Left Behind was born.

Matt and Janis co-founded No One Left Behind to help wartime allies and their families move to safety in the U.S. and get on their feet. Since the organization began, they’ve helped 8,300 people move to safety, but they estimate more than 50,000 interpreters, translators, and other wartime allies are still living in danger in their home country.

Mohammed, an Afghan national, served with the coalition forces despite the risks he knew it posed to his family. He was on duty one day when he received a call from his family that people were at his home, threatening his mother. They told her that they knew her family members were working with the coalition forces and that they would be back to hurt them. It was then that Mohammed began the arduous process of applying for his visa to move his family to safety. For five treacherous years, they waited. Many who applied were denied, but Mohammed, his wife, and young children were some of the lucky ones. He received his visa and moved to the United States, where he can now visit the playground and give his children the freedoms they would never have had back in Afghanistan.


“We have an obligation to look after those who have served us, and served our mission, and served their own country, so very faithfully and often involving a great deal of sacrifice.” – General David Petraeus


Ellen Smith is the Rochester Chapter President of No One Left Behind. Her job is 24 hours a day, answering messages on Facebook and What’s App from allies looking for help. When they arrive in the U.S., her job is far from over. No One Left Behind pays for the first month’s rent, furnishes their homes, and helps families enroll in school, English classes, and support from job agencies. They do whatever is needed until families are fully settled and integrated into their new home country. The first group of people that No One Left Behind helped just finished the process to become U.S. citizens. Janis is due to receive his citizenship sometime in the next year.

In recognition of the work his organization has done, Matt Zeller, a Rochester native and AC alum, was named a 2018 CNN Hero. His commitment to helping translators and interpreters move to safety in the U.S. has been supported by leaders in the military and political circles nationwide. But the work isn’t over. Thousands of allies still need our help.

This Veterans Day, Allendale Columbia remembers our soldiers, marines, and the many local nationals who helped our brothers and sisters complete their missions and return home safely. Matt Zeller, Janis Shinwari, and Ellen Smith will be at Allendale Columbia School on Thursday, November 15th, to share their story in person. Commemorate Veterans Day with us.


The Forgotten Soldiers: The True Cost of War for American Allies
Thursday, November 15th
6:00 – 7:30 p.m.

$5 General Admission
Students FREE with valid ID
(seats are limited; order tickets in advance)

Allendale Columbia School presents this event as part of our commitment to exposing students and the Rochester community to global opportunities and multicultural perspectives, creating a culture of global empathy. Learn more about the AC Center for Global Engagement.


Tagged with: , , , , , , ,
Posted in: AC in the News, Alumni News, Authentic Learning, Entrepreneurship, Global Engagement, Highlights

AC Connects with Alumni in NYC

Posted on October 19th, 2018 by Amelia Fitzsimmons

After navigating the tricky feat of holding a reception in Boston during a Red Sox playoff game, Mick Gee, Karen Higman, and Kayla Himelein packed their bags and headed to New York City. Along the way, they had a lovely visit with former Headmistress Miss Joan Twaddle at her home in Rhode Island. 

Then it was on to New York to enjoy the company of a lively crowd of alumni and parents.

Among the guests present was beloved former faculty member Lorraine Van Meter-Cline who, with  celebrity-like magnetism, had alums of all ages flocking to her. Over the course of the night, the drinks flowed freely, as did the stories, and rumor has it, a number of attendees continued the party for several hours after the reception, where AC stories continued to be shared along with many laughs.

Also present at the reception was former staff member Karyn Vella, who was recognized by Mick Gee, Head of School, for her monumental work on the Impact Initiative Campaign. Thanks to the support of AC alumni, parents, students, faculty, and staff, AC exceeded its $4 million campaign goal and is now able to provide students with enhanced access to innovative and authentic learning opportunities.

“The energy of the New York City reception was just incredible,” recalled Karen Higman, Director of Advancement at AC. “It was refreshing to see so many recent (within the past five years or so) AC alumni gathered together. And to personally witness the connection they still have with one another… and with Lorraine! It truly shows just how strong those bonds are between AC students and faculty alike.”

We, of course, must also give a special thanks to Mr. Stephen B. Ashley, our gracious host, without whom none of this would have been possible.

We look forward to seeing YOU at an upcoming alumni reception or event soon!

Save the Date
Thursday, December 20th
Annual Alumni Holiday Reception (Rochester, NY)



Tagged with:
Posted in: Alumni News, Highlights, The Birches, Uncategorized, US Birches

AC Connects with Boston Area Alumni

Posted on October 19th, 2018 by Amelia Fitzsimmons

Each year, members of the Alumni Office travel around the country to reconnect and reminisce with AC alumni.  This year’s first stop was Boston!

On Tuesday evening,Head of School Mick Gee, Karen Higman, and Kayla Himelein enjoyed catching up with alumni and friends at the Union Club of Boston. Among the distinguished guests was former Head of Upper School, John Harrison. Alumni and friends reconnected with former classmates and shared stories of their time at AC over drinks and hors d’oeuvres. Regardless of background or graduation year, many of their stories revolved around the shared experiences they had with beloved faculty and the personalized care and attention they received as students at AC.

Mick Gee and Kieran Draper P’19, Current Trustee, also spoke to the group about the progress of the school as we come out of the Impact Initiative Campaign and the establishment of AC’s new Centers for Impact. Thanks to the support of AC alumni, parents, students, faculty, and staff, AC exceeded its $4 million campaign goal and is now able to provide students with enhanced access to innovative and authentic learning opportunities.

Save the Date
Thursday, December 20th
Annual Alumni Holiday Reception (Rochester, NY)

We hope to see YOU at an upcoming alumni reception or event soon!



Tagged with:
Posted in: Alumni News, Highlights, The Birches, US Birches

Strawberry Breakfast Delights an Appreciative Crowd

Posted on May 25th, 2018 by Allendale Columbia School

A long-standing tradition at Allendale Columbia School, Strawberry Breakfast always draws an appreciative crowd as we kick off the Memorial Day weekend. In fact, the audience has grown to the extent that it’s held in the Gannett Gym for greater accessibility, and it’s streamed live on the internet.

The expected traditional pieces, such as the Maypole Dance, Sword Dance, and the “Inch by Inch” song by second graders still enthralled. See the entire agenda below, and click here for more photos.

Former AC parent Mitzie Collins again joined our ensemble for the Maypole Dance. Mitzie created the recordings that have been used for the dances at Strawberry Breakfast for over 30 years. She has a long-standing career in music performance and research, teaching music history and hammered dulcimer at the Eastman Community Music School.

Strawberry Breakfast concluded with…strawberries and donuts!


Head of School Mick Gee

Sophomores Fiona Lutz and Roxy Reisch

 “Good Cheer”
Upper School Select Chorus

Processional Chain
Featuring AC Fourth Graders

Crowning and Pinning of Seniors
AC Sophomores

“Now is the Month of Maying”
Upper School Chorus

AC Fifth Graders

Circle Dance
AC Third Graders

Simple Gifts
Middle School Chorus

The Sword Dance
Sophomore Students
Music performed by Upper School Band and Mitzie Collins

“Garden Song (Inch by Inch)”
AC Second Graders

The Maypole Dance
Sophomores Students
Music performed by Upper School Band and Mitzie Collins

When You Believe
All Strawberry Breakfast Performers

Closing Remarks
Sophomores Fiona Lutz and Roxy Reisch

Senior Recessional Chain
Featuring AC Fourth Graders


Tagged with: ,
Posted in: Alumni News, Fifth Grade, Fourth Grade, Highlights, Lower School, Middle School, Second Grade, Tenth Grade, Third Grade, Upper School

Learn Some Secrets Behind Strawberry Breakfast

Posted on May 10th, 2018 by Allendale Columbia School

by Gabriel Costanzo

Did you ever wonder why certain dances were included in the Strawberry Breakfast at Allendale Columbia? What are their origins? What’s the story behind this tradition? A few secrets will be revealed by Mitzie Collins, Rochester musician and parent of three former AC students.

Collins is a well known musician in Western New York, and she will be joining the AC musicians accompanying the Maypole Dance and Sword Dance at this year’s Strawberry Breakfast. This Monday, May 14th, at 12:05 p.m., Ms. Collins will give a presentation about these traditions to those musicians and dancers.  The presentation will be in the Curtis Performance Center.


Kristin Cocquyt

Gabriel Costanzo

As an instrumental music teacher at Allendale Columbia School, Gabe teaches 4th Grade Band, 5th Grade Band, Concert Band, Jazz Ensemble, Wind Ensemble, and Music Theory. He held the David M. Pynchon Chair in the Visual and Performing Arts from 2008 - 2013 and is a member of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers. He earned bachelor's degrees in Music Education and Music Composition from SUNY College at Fredonia and a master's degree in Music Composition from Bowling Green State University. You can also find him on horn and vocals for the local band The Buddhahood.
Tagged with: , , , ,
Posted in: Alumni News, Highlights

Make Your Mark at the 2018 Gala!

Posted on April 20th, 2018 by Allendale Columbia School

Get ready for the celebration of the year in just 50 days: the Make Your Mark Gala on Friday, May 18th, 2018, at Oak Hill Country Club. You can go online now to sponsor the event, purchase an ad for your business or to recognize someone special, donate an auction item, host a table, or buy individual tickets at Next Friday, April 27th, is the last day to buy tickets!

Join us for an evening of fine food, friendship, and lively entertainment as we celebrate the many ways the Allendale Columbia community makes its mark on the world.

Sponsorships are available at several levels and include opportunities to host a table of 8 or 10 of your best friends, class parents, colleagues, or clients. With your sponsorship or individual tickets, you and your guests can enjoy good spirits, fine family-style fare, charitable auction action, and the impressive talents of Allendale Columbia students throughout the night.. Oh, and did we mention you will also have chances to win a variety of live and silent auction items, including vacations, one-of-a-kind experiences, and valuable local products and services?

If you would like to donate experiences or items for the silent or live auction, you can enter the information at, or contact Kayla Himelein at or 585.641.5288.

Your active participation will help us in the final push over the top for our 3-year, $4 million Impact Initiative Campaign that supports AC’s strategic initiatives and opportunities for students this year and in the years ahead.

Join us!

Tagged with: ,
Posted in: Alumni News, LS Birches, MS Birches, The Birches, US Birches

Save a Life at Blood Drive April 25th

Posted on April 16th, 2018 by Allendale Columbia School

You can be a life saver! Please consider supporting the Allendale Columbia School Community Service Club’s upcoming Blood Drive on Wednesday, April 25th, from 12:00 noon – 5:00 p.m. in the AC Alumni Gym, 519 Allens Creek Road in Rochester.

CLICK HERE to schedule an appointment using the sponsor keyword allendalecolumbia, or call the Red Cross at 1-800-Red-Cross. In only about an hour, donors can give a pint of whole blood or “Power Red”. A Power Red donation collects the red cells but returns most of the plasma and platelets to the donor. These donors must meet specific eligibility requirements and have type A Neg, B Neg, or O blood.

Those who donate will receive a free Red Cross t-shirt (while supplies last). Middle School students will also support the Red Cross with a bake sale at 10:30 a.m. in the Dining Commons.


Tagged with: , , ,
Posted in: Alumni News, Eleventh Grade, Highlights, LS Birches, Middle School, MS Birches, Ninth Grade, Tenth Grade, The Birches, Twelfth Grade, Upper School, US Birches

Creativity Abounds at Evening of the Arts

Posted on March 27th, 2018 by Allendale Columbia School

Creativity knows no bounds, as Allendale Columbia School students demonstrated at the biennial Evening of the Arts event on Friday, March 23rd. The exhibition featured over a hundred works of art from students in grades N – 12 displayed throughout the school. This year’s theme was “Art Around the World”.

Honors and Portfolio Seminar Art students plied their craft in the Bruce B. Bates Design and Innovation Lab, previewing their work for the upcoming spring thesis exhibition in April. Senior Madison DeCory appreciated the opportunity to help stimulate artistic creativity in younger students, as she mentioned in an interview with News 8 Rochester: “What we want to do tonight is showcase what we’ve been doing, showcase our talents, and get other students interested in the artwork that we’re doing.”

“It’s a variety of work all the way from photography — we have a black and white darkroom which is incredible for our students to have that experience — to printmaking, painting, drawing, design, digital work, and hands on work,” said Amy Oliveri, AC art teacher and Director of the AC Center for Entrepreneurship. A group of 5th graders even demonstrated their “crankie” from the Lower School musical, “I’m Not Sleepy…Yet!”.

Students working in the Global Engagement Diploma program also participated in a bit of social entrepreneurism, selling handmade baskets from a women’s collective and shade-grown coffee to benefit the program’s partners in El Sauce, Nicaragua.

News 8 Rochester summarized the event on their evening news show.

Tagged with: , , , , , ,
Posted in: AC in the News, Alumni News, Centers for Impact, Eighth Grade, Eleventh Grade, Entrepreneurship, Fifth Grade, First Grade, Fourth Grade, Global Engagement, Highlights, Invent, Kindergarten, Lower School, Middle School, Ninth Grade, Nursery, Partnerships, Pre-Primary School, PreKindergarten, Second Grade, Seventh Grade, Sixth Grade, Tenth Grade, Third Grade, Twelfth Grade, Upper School