Today on Parent Choices for Struggling Teens, Lon Woodbury interviewed two of the "pioneers" of wilderness therapy: Larry Dean Olsen and Ezekiel Sanchez, Founders of Anasazi Foundation, in Mesa, AZ.
Larry began in the 1960s as a wilderness instructor for groups of students. "I had spent my young life in the desert," he explained, "rather than going to ball games and that type of thing. And so it was sort of a natural transition to me to try to teach others to learn how to live in the desert." He noticed with the groups he was taking out to the desert, that positive patterns began to emerge. Grade point averages went up and students were displaying a more positive attitude at home.
The Academic Department at BYU began to take notice and turned to Larry to be an instructor for students who had flunked out of college. This trial involved taking a group of students on a semester long expedition to learn survival skills out in the desert. If they completed the course, they were welcomed back to school. The initial trial was tremendously successful.
Ezekiel, who also studied survival skills as a young man, was one of Larry's first "guinea pigs." He had received a letter from BYU that he could return to the school on a probationary status if he could successfully complete the new Survival Semester opportunity. Although he didn't look like a survivalist, Ezekiel soon admired the skills Larry had to offer. "He looked like Clark Kent but was more like Superman out there," he shared with a laugh. At the end of the first group, Larry asked Ezekiel to be his assistant.
The program began to come together almost without a whole lot of planning.
"That's an important point," Larry explained. "Because it happened that way, we learned the advantages of doing it that way and still try to do it that way as much as we can. It makes it a more authentic experience in the wilderness rather than a contrived one. And that's one of the real secrets of the success of this program."
"Back at that time," Ezekiel added, "we were doing therapeutic work but we weren't even aware of it. We were strictly survival."
The program began to receive attention from not only the University, but also from the media. Therapists began to take notice, and judges began sentencing juvenile delinquents to the desert. The goal always remained to keep the experience authentic rather than contrived.
After six years and 10,000 participants in the program, Larry and Ezekiel parted ways. Each had to go on his own spiritual mission. Larry went private and worked with many organizations within the wilderness field including serving as the Board of Directors for the National Association of Therapeutic Wilderness Camps (NATWC). Ezekiel returned from his mission, got married and taught on the Navajo reservation. Later, the two joined forces again after much praying, "The sacred wind brought the answers we were looking for," explained Ezekiel, and Anasazi Foundation was started in 1988.
The mission at Anasazi Foundation has always been the Ten Guiding Principles of the Anasazi Way: to prepare the parents and the children to turn their hearts to one another, begin anew and walk in harmony in the wilderness of the world.
"Children always come first at Anasazi," explained Ezekiel full of emotion. "It was important to us to always keep the children safe, first, at all cost."
"It is the wilderness that provides the experience," Larry added. "The parents provide the love."
The Anasazi Way was created by Larry, Ezekiel and his wife Pauline, who is fluent in Navajo and the history of the Anasazi. There are three sequential "walkings" that the YoungWalkers (students) participate in: the RabbitStick Walking, the BadgerStone Walking and the DawnStar Walking. These walks, added to the series of ceremonies, are all created to start a new beginning, awaken the heart and to celebrate the "Seed of Greatness" inside each of them. The program is also based on "free will" or the power of choice.
At the end of the interview, Lon asked for the professional opinion of how parents might choose a program for their child. Both guests had great answers, but boiled down to the basics. Parents should ask themselves a series of questions and then make decisions based on their honest answers. "Is it a punitive experience or a loving one?" "Will my child be treated with dignity and respect?" "How safe is the program?" "What philosophy is being taught?" "What kind of people "walk" with the children; can they be trusted?" As Larry adamantly put it, "Parents need to question every aspect of the program."
To listen to the full interview go to: The Miracle of Wilderness Therapy
Also available in Podcast
is the owner/founder of Woodbury Reports Inc. and www.strugglingteens.com
. He has worked with families and struggling teens since 1984 and is the host of Parent Choices for Struggling Teens
Mondays at 12:00pm, Pacific Time, Channel One.
Larry D. Olsen
founded ANASAZI Foundation with his long-time friend and partner Ezekiel Sanchez, which was the first program of its kind to be licensed and later nationally accredited as a behavioral healthcare provider. Larry completed a bachelor's degree in Education at BYU with graduate studies in English. He is a Wood Badge trained "Scouter" and has written instructional manuals for the Boy Scouts of America. Larry is married to Sherrel Eslinger of Twin Falls, ID, and they are the parents of ten children.
, a Totonac Indian from Mexico, is the second oldest of sixteen children, and co-founder of the ANASAZI Foundation, Today, Ezekiel's knowledge of plants and ancient skills is unparalleled, and is known for his exceptional skill to track (even at night). Ezekiel is married to Pauline Martin, a beautiful Navajo from The Gap, AZ. They are the parents of seven children and were honored as the 2001 Arizona's Parents of the Year and in 2002 received the Excellence in Parenting 2002 National Award from The National Parents' Day Council, A Project of the American Family Coalition and The Washington Times Foundation.