Recording artists and awards. A service project and a stellar country concert with Due West. At-risk teens and trailwalkers. And, a gala scholarship dinner and gathering of grateful parents, authors, athletes, and accomplished business people. What sounds like a smorgasbord of things to do in the East Valley is all part of the two-day ANASAZI Foundation Silver Anniversary Celebration on Nov. 15 and 16.
At a time when drugs, drinking and teen suicide are claiming an alarmingly high number of young people, the Mesa-based ANASAZI Foundation continues to show success in turning the tide for at-risk youth. Over its 25-year history, the nonprofit organization has reached more than 4,000 young people, helping them to“find their way in the world” through a 49-day wilderness experience and what they call a new way of “walking.”
Cofounder Ezekiel Sanchez of Mesa said much of the philosophy and principles at ANASAZI’s foundation stem from his own background
A Totonac Indian and the second oldest of 16 children, Sanchez traveled with his migrant worker family across the Western States. He learned to work hard and to recognize which wild plants and other edibles from the desert could be used to supplement his family’s food supply and important lessons from the desert.
His skills were vital to the early development of ANASAZI as he and cofounder Larry D. Olsen sought to provide young people with “the opportunity for growth through a primitive living experience and a philosophy that invites healing at the hands of nature.”
Today, even when dealing with the most troubled youth, “we always start with the positive. We believe that these young people have seeds of greatness in them. We regard them as a person of infinite worth and potential,” Sanchez said.
As the young people find their way in the wilderness, they also find strengths within themselves — and, as a result, seem to find bridges back to parents and families.
As ANASAZI gears up for the anniversary celebration and reunion of alumni, parents and fans, particularly telling of the organization’s success is the long list of supporters, including bestselling authors, Stephen R. Covey and Richard Paul Evans; NFL hall of famers, Bart Starr and Steve Young; and award-winning musicians, Marie Osmond and Wynonna Judd — who calls the program “inspiring.” These and many others echo Barbara Bush, who said of ANASAZI, “... you are truly lighting the way for people lost in the dark.”
Even more impressive, perhaps, are the accolades from past participants.
“I’m just so grateful. They literally saved my life. They gave me back my life, in all reality,” said Shari Lyon of Gilbert, an alumna from the early years of ANASAZI.
The ANASAZI Way has been recognized internationally as an approach that invites lasting change in youth and young adults making at-risk choices. The principles have been made accessible to readers worldwide with the publication, earlier the year, of “The Seven Paths: Changing One’s Way of Walking in the World,” an adaptation of the book used on the trail.
The celebration kicks off Friday, Nov. 15, with a scholarship gala at the San Tan Elegante Conference Center at the DoubleTree by Hilton Phoenix-Gilbert. The emcee for the evening, 7-foot-4-inch NBA all-star Mark Eaton, will present a special award to Stephen M.R. Covey and the Turn for Peace Award to Magellan CEO Barry M. Smith. Entertainment will be by “The Voice” contestants Ryan Innes and Amy Whitcomb.
On Saturday, Nov. 16, ANASAZI will host a service project aimed at allowing area youth to experience a variety of simple wilderness skills in workshops taught by ANASAZI alumni.
That evening, Due West will take the Mesa Arts Center stage with a country concert produced in support of ANASAZI. For tickets, visit mesaartscenter.com. For information, tickets to the gala or to find out how to support ANASAZI’s work, visit anasazi.org.