Clos­ing out NFO’s 5th an­niver­sary year, look­ing ahead

The Taos News - - FAVOR Y CONTRA - BY DON PE­TERS Don Pe­ters is the Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor of Not For­got­ten Outreach.

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.

File photo

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.

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