Above: Kym Sanchez. Photograph by Allison Pharmkis.
AFTER HER HUSBAND, Sergeant Paul Timothy Sanchez, was killed in action in Iraq in 2007, Kym Sanchez realized that the only way to help herself move forward was by helping others do so, too. “When you’ve gone through that tragedy, your old path no longer exists,” says Sanchez, a military veteran herself. “I knew what it was to be a soldier, I knew what it was to be married to a soldier, but I got a whole new education in what it was to be a widow. It’s really hard to experience something like that and not try to do something good with it.”
One day, fellow veteran Don Peters asked her what she would do if anything were possible. “I knew that if I could take care of someone else in their most vulnerable time,” says Sanchez, “I’d want to give them a place where they won’t have to worry about money, where they could show their grief and be surrounded by love, compassion, and understanding.”
She manifested that vision in the Not Forgotten Outreach Respite Center, in Taos, where veterans and families of fallen heroes find peace and support in free weeklong stays. Sanchez chose Taos because it is “a place of healing.” The tranquil rural setting of the northern New Mexico house offers therapy animals, too, including two geese—Charles and Diana—and llamas named Dalai Llama and Barack O’Llama. “I always hope and pray that no one walks away from here feeling alone,” Sanchez says softly, sitting on the porch in the golden afternoon light.
Founded as a nonprofit in 2013 by Sanchez (Don Peters is now her partner, the organization’s executive director, and its “driving force”), Not Forgotten Outreach today offers numerous programs beyond the weeklong retreats to veterans and Gold Star families, like the Taos Veterans Day Picnic, which feeds more than 500 military families. And then there’s VetCorps, a six-month program that pays veterans a living stipend while they learn farming skills. “I kept reading that just putting your hands in soil was better than antidepressants,” says Sanchez. Three-quarters of the produce grown goes to local food banks and schools.
“One gentleman vet, he’d been homeless for 10 years,” Sanchez says. “He wouldn’t look at you, would barely talk. He went from that to finding a place to live, talking to people, and picking flowers from the roadside to give to people. He’s doing really well.”
There is a two-way relationship between what NFO offers to Taos—including classes that the general public can attend—and the way individuals and businesses rally to support the nonprofit’s mission. “We couldn’t do NFO without Taos,” says Sanchez. “It’s such a wonderful community.”
Looking ahead, NFO plans to build a Veterans’ Memorial Garden with an ADA-accessible walking path open to the public on a plot of pastureland in the heart of Taos, where everyone can pause to reflect, remember, and recover
Sanchez has a quiet humility about everything she’s achieved in honor of her fallen-hero husband. “Every time you see someone that’s really struggling and you see this beautiful light of hope spark in them, that’s what keeps you going.”
HOW TO HELP
Not Forgotten Outreach appreciates financial donations but can also use farming equipment and commercial kitchen equipment, such as a walk-in freezer.
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