Closing out NFO’s 5th anniversary year, looking ahead
Nine years ago, as a veteran with a service-related spinal cord injury, I found real inspiration when I met fellow veteran Ms. Kym Sanchez. The founder of Not Forgotten Outreach and a 2018 New Mexico True Hero, Ms. Kym was then a recent widow, grappling with the death of her husband in the Iraq War. I learned that her job in the Army was to retrieve deceased 1st Infantry soldiers from the battlefields of Iraq and perform funeral services not only in Iraq, but again in Germany for the soldiers’ families.
Ms. Kym stated to me that, like many veterans, she struggled with finding a place where she could really feel at peace. It took my breath away that from this inner conflict was born the motivation to create a place of solace for military families struggling in similar ways.
Ms Kym formed Not Forgotten Outreach Inc., in 2013, with the goal of providing therapeutic, recreational and farming activities to facilitate the healing process and help with the reintegration challenges faced by military veterans and their families as well as Gold Star families of fallen heroes.
NFO started out with six raised garden beds at Taos Men’s Shelter, and in its first year, sponsored the first New Mexico team at the National Veterans’ Golden Age Games and started a yearly Taos Veterans Day Picnic and the Military Appreciation Weekend at Taos Ski Valley. Ms Kym also began Taos Veterans Farming project, a Dirt Therapy program that implemented ecotherapy, a practice of finding healing through agriculture and connection with the earth.
Over five years, I’ve had the pleasure of volunteering full time with NFO and have watched each of these programs grow at a rapid pace. 2018 marked the 5th anniversary of NF, and has been an amazing year of accomplishment. I am thrilled and gratified to share these milestones with the Taos community that has been a part of it all.
Over the past year, NFO purchased the 28-acre iconic Mitchell Corral No. 5, blocks from Taos Plaza, through a grant from the LOR Foundation. We now proudly call it La Finca Militar (Military Farm) and, in partnership with both the U.S. Fish and Game Department and the USDA-Natural Resource Conservation Service, we plan to develop it as our new and expanded site for ecotherapy.
Ms. Kym’s original “Dirt Therapy” program is now an AmeriCorps, VetCorps program — the first in the nation focused on training military families in farming and ranching — and NFO is an AmeriCorps VISTA sponsor of five members working at NFO, Taos Milagro Rotary Club and Rocky Mountain Youth Corps.
Additionally, NFO hosted our seventh team of AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps members. The seven teams have had a hand in remodeling the NFO Wellness Center, the Respite Center, and the new La Finca Militar. The last NCCC team helped to cut down evasive elm trees and turn them into a border fence around a 2-acre Living Veterans Memorial Park within La Finca Militar. The memorial represents a coalition of Taos Pueblo, Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3259, Disabled American Veterans Chapter No. 12 and their auxiliaries.
This year, NFO celebrated the fifth annual Military Appreciation Week at Taos Ski Valley (with the sixth annual approaching soon — Jan. 22-27), fifth annual Taos Veterans Day Picnic, and fourth annual Taos Veterans Creative Arts Festival. In the fall, we were elated to receive the
2018 Veterans Affairs Adaptive Sports Grant for yoga, fly-fishing and adaptive snowsports, making NFO an official partner with the federal Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs.
In keeping with our ecotherapy focus, NFO has also joined efforts in revitalizing two traditional irrigation systems in the town of Taos: the Acequia Las Lomas Abajo and the Acequia Archuleta. We are currently working with Taos Valley Acequia Association, town of Taos, Taos Soil and Water Conservation District, the state Department of Transportation, Acequia Madre del Río Pueblo Commission and the Taos Pueblo. Additionally, we received an Innovative Conservation Award from the Taos Soil and Water Conservation District.
Upcoming, NFO is finalizing its strategic plan 2022. Right now, NFO is working with the Defense Department, Veterans Affairs, AmeriCorps’ parent, Corporation for National Service, to incorporate the Forever GI Bill with VetCorps. NFO is in a design and planning phase for military affordable housing units, a fresh-cut produce building, year-round greenhouses, temporary farmworkers housing, workshop, pole-barn and veterans services building.
Finally, as previously mentioned, our founder Ms Kym Sanchez was selected as a
2018 New Mexico True Hero by Gov. Martinez for her efforts with NFO. After years of working with her, I can tell you she deeply deserves it. I’ve witnessed this soldier take her pain and suffering and turn it into positive emotion that has affected the lives of more than
15,000 military families in five short years.
With your continued help, NFO will continue to grow and spread our programs, including VetCorps in Farming/Ranching across the nation. Ms Kym is the reason I give, and I thank the Taos community for making it all possible.
Alexander Machovec of Denver prepares to drill a fence together at Not Forgotten Outreach’s Military Respite Center Oct. 17 with the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps.