By Mary Deardeuff
The bare necessities, angry teenagers and Hell’s Canyon were Tawna McBride’s unforgettable experiences this summer.
McBride was a trail walker with Anasazi, a wilderness survival program founded for troubled youth by BYU teachers.
McBride, 22, who graduated from BYU in April, heard about Anasazi through a friend in high school whose life was changed by the program.
McBride spent all summer in the Arizona desert, leading the youth, called young walkers, on the Anasazi trail for eight days at a time.
They were each given limited food and supplies in a 40-pound pack, then dropped off in the middle of the desert to make their way through the trail, McBride said.
“Basically, we only have the bare necessities,” said McBride in a journal entry during her first week on the trail. “We live as the ancient Indians do. No lighters, no matches.”
As a trail walker, McBride could take a radio, a topographic map, and a medical kit, but that was about it.
McBride said when she looks back on her first experience on the trail, she is amazed that she lived through it.
Although McBride said it was the hardest time of her life, she felt peace and learned about herself while growing close to the kids she worked with.
“It was incredible,” she said.
Anasazi has been changing lives for over 30 years, said Mike Merchant, CEO of the foundation.
Larry D. Olson and Ezekiel C. Sanchez started teaching the survival program as a youth leadership class at BYU in the late 1960s.
In 1969 they won a National Education Award, and soon after moved it to Arizona. Olson and Sanchez are still active in the program today, Merchant said.
The mission of Anasazi is to prepare parents and children to turn their hearts towards each other, Merchant said.
About 30 percent of the youth who go to walk the trail are from LDS families, Merchant said.
The founders of Anasazi believe that the youth are not objects to be fixed or changed, but young people with hopes and dreams who have made at-risk choices, Merchant said. Anasazi gives them the opportunity to build self-confidence and change their lives.
Heather McMillan is one such youth whose life was turned around by Anasazi.
McMillan was 17 when she became a young walker in the Arizona desert.
“It gave me and everyone I was with a time to think about their lives and what they were doing with it,” McMillan said.
She said she had been into drugs when her mom put her into the program. Now, one year later, she is preparing to go to the University of Nevada in Las Vegas, and she wants to work with kids who are having a hard time.
McMillan said she is thinking about being a trail walker because of the great impact that hers had on her.
“Trail walkers help so many kids whether they realize it or not,” she said. “I wish everyone in the world could experience something like it.”
Merchant said they hire many trail walkers from BYU. He is hoping to set up an internship program called, “Semester at Anasazi,” for students from fields such as youth leadership, recreation management, family life, psychology, sociology, education and social work.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity to come and serve with the young walkers on the trail,” Merchant said.