30 years ago this year, with a prayer and a small loan from my husband, Southwest Institute of Healing Arts, came into existence. Starting with two classrooms and 6 students, the college has grown to 16 classrooms, in three buildings, serving nearly 600 on-campus students, and nearly as many online students across the country.
As a longtime student of A Course In Miracles, one day long ago I prayed in earnest what is known as the ‘miracle prayer’: “What would you have me do? Where would you have me go? What would you have me say, and to whom?” From that prayer came the vision of creating a place where individuals could come to discover their gifts, where education would not be a “cookie cutter” experience and where individual expression and diversity was encouraged and honored. Starting as a massage college, SWIHA is striving 30 years later by offering 16 Certificates of Excellences, 10 different diplomas, Associates in Healing Arts, and over 300 individual continuing education classes.
Over the years I have come to believe when you get an idea, it’s an invitation from Spirit. It’s not about how qualified you are by the world’s standards; it’s about your deep willingness to serve others. Without a doubt, I firmly believed when you receive a big vision the people and resources will be sent as well.
From our very beginning, we have always had a work-study program known as the “Do Your Dream” which allowed students with limited resources to attend classes as they pursued their dream. That’s how Matt Pierce started – the person with the longest tenure with SWIHA. He has served for 23 years in a variety of positions from front desk concierge, student service specialist, to being on the maintenance team. He now serves as the morning concierge at Spirit of Yoga, in addition to a myriad of other things. He’s our rock — heaven sent.
Linda Bennett was another one of the earliest blessings. She has been with SWIHA 21 years, leading and up-leveling the Hypnotherapy programs. Over 3000 people have been served with our award winning hypnotherapy programs. In addition, Linda was one of the co-authors and co-facilitators of the Life Coaching program at SWIHA. Well over 5000 students have taken the 100-hour Life Coaching program, and over 3000 students online have stepped into their power and grace with this program. Linda was named the 2014 International Medical & Dental Hypnotherapy Association Educator of the Year, honored with the National Association of Transpersonal Hypnotherapists’ 2011 Outstanding Clinic Contribution Award, and recognized by the Arizona Private Schools Association for “Outstanding Creativity in the Classroom” during the 2005-2006 school year. We can truly say the Director of our Hypnotherapy program is an award-winning woman.
A triad of amazing women joined us 16 year ago: Bernadett Bialach, Carmen Marrero and Sara Zejda.
Having recently completed her finance degree, Bernadett joined the accounting department 16 years ago, bringing a genuine kindness and willingness to help students. When asked why she has served so many years at SWIHA she said, “Throughout my time here I have been surrounded by people who truly care about touching lives, who embrace diversity, and who provide a meaningful, safe environment that helps people find their dreams and heal their souls. Thank you for trusting me with my role! "
A DYD student who loved our Polarity program, which is one of our longest running specializations under the direction of Gary Strauss, volunteered at one of the annual fall festivals, also known as the Holistic Gathering, boldly said, “You know, you should hire me. I could take your graphics and branding to a whole new level.” Shortly thereafter, Carmen did join the marketing department and has provided creativity and leadership ever since. She has completed over 2,643 hours of education at SWIHA, with specializations in the massage, nutrition, polarity, reiki, reflexology and toe reading.
Sara Zejda and I “connected” in one of the spiritual studies class with a special “I SEE YOU” bond. We shared a similar spiritual foundation, a deep belief in the power of prayer and similar work ethic. Yes, she was a DYD student, with the spiritual gifts of “hospitality, helps, and leadership.” Sara graduated from the 1000-hr massage program, including a few spiritual studies electives. She, too, has served in many capacities from a staff LMT (licensed massage therapist), massage clinic manager, maintenance and facility manager, and now Student Success Coach for graduating massage students.
Seventeen years ago, our vocationally oriented aesthetics programs began under the name of Southwest Institute of Natural Aesthetics. For many years our graduates have scored in the high 90th percentile range on the written and hands-on tests administered by the Arizona State Board of Cosmetology. We often credit part of that success to a long-time instructor, Lydia Castro, who has for years assisted in the preparation of students for their state board tests. Lydia has been serving SWINA for 16 years; she is currently the student spa clinic manager.
We tout over 3500 graduates from SWINA. Dr. Laree Hooker, ND, has provided the vision and leadership for our Laser program since 2010 serving as our Medical Director, overseeing over 1100 laser graduates.
A big vision was launched and lead by Brad Boute, who joined us 14 years ago to establish the online department. This is one of our largest departments, with an impact of graduating thousands of holistic practitioners worldwide. Brad holds the record for the most number of positions in which he has served. Dr. Brad Boute now serves as the Executive Director of SWIHA, in addition to being elected as a commissioner for our accreditation board — Accredited Council for Continuing Education and Training.
Michael Dye, celebrating 12 years of service, was one of our first online students advisors, who has gone on to serve in multiple leadership capacities including director He has been an online instructor for 9 years and currently he holds the title of Associate Dean of Online Education. Along the way he recruited his brother Alan Taylor to join the online curriculum development team. Alan has been serving for 11 years, growing in skills and contribution. He is our online Sound Engineer, helping to create over 25 interactive courses each year.
We might be seeing a trend — people often serve in a variety of positions at SWIHA, depending on the needs of the organization and their personal passions. Promoting within and capitalizing on an employee’s individual gifts is one of the ways we honor our mission statement of helping individuals to discover their gifts and graces.
Others who have served SWIHA for over 10 years including: Anyada Francia, Salisha Kaci, Jacqueline Wright, James Patrick, Angelica Diaz, Crystal Clay, Amber Imes, Barb Moeller, Anna Fonnegra, Matt Bialach and Chelsea Trautman.
There are many more milestones:
- For the last 25 years we have had the polarity program under the director of Gary Strauss. From what we understand, SWIHA hosts the largest polarity program in the country.
- For over 23 years we have partnered with JoAnn Sanchez to offer a Western Herbalism It is one of the most comprehensive in the United States, with a focus on native flora and sustainable wild crafting practices. SWIHA is also a member of the American Herbalists Guild.
- 12 years ago we opened a beautiful public yoga studio due to the tireless efforts of Will Zecco and Wayne Hoffman. At that time, we launched an Advanced Yoga Teacher Training program, featuring the signature Amrit I AM Yoga programs lead by Kamini Desai
- Laura McKenzie has taught in our Yoga Teacher Training 200-hour program for 10 years, which partially inspired her self-published book “Cues for Yoga,” used as a part the morning FAST TRACK YTT program.
- SWIHA has become the mecca for Reiki training, with three individual expressions available: Traditional Reiki, led by Scott Taylor (who has taken 2489 hours at SWIHA), Shamanic Reiki, led by Brad Boute and Larry Matterly, and Holy Reiki, created and taught by Mary Ritter. Between the three programs over 200 people a year gain exposure to this energetic healing modality.
- Most recently our new Health & Wellness Coaching program was approved by National Board for Health and Wellness, under the direction of James Patrick, who has served for over 11 years.
Where do we even begin to bring thanks to all those who have served SWIHA and its students: There are over 102 staff members, 108 instructors, 35 yoga instructors and 18 Licensed Massage Therapists we wish to acknowledge. Our most senior LMT is Amy Pfunter who has served 12 years in our public-serving massage clinic.
Our leadership team consists of a tribe of very committed, competent, passionate individuals: Dr. Brad Boute, Executive Director (14years); Salisha Kacic Director of Finance (13 years); Angelica Diaz, Dean of Students (11 years); Tristen Reis, Director of Admissions (almost 7 years) and Pam Brown, Campus Director for SWINA(almost 3 years)
Fun fact: Joel Hamilton, Associate Dean of On-campus Education, having worked for SWIHA for 5 years, has completed more hours than any other student in the history of SWIHA – 3067 to be exact. He has earned his three AOS Degrees from SWIHA, completed two additional diploma programs, which includes all 11 Certificate of Excellence offered.
As a fascinating summary, since 1992 we have served over 25,000 Students , hosted 240 Gifts and Graces, had 4 campus moves, received 31 awards, experienced 8 leap years, 371 full moons, 99 mercury retrogrades , 68 lunar eclipses, and 66 solar eclipses. All this to say – our destinies are written in the stars. When the right combinations of Souls come together, magic happens.
One of Rumi’s quotes best describes how we have all come together: “Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull to what you really love. It will not lead you astray.” SWIHA is 30 years old, and thriving.