At AFAR, It’s One Big Family

Pictured left to right: Heath Bentley, Mat Saunders, Tom Wilkey, Jamie Awe. Heath and Tom were the first pioneers in 2006 to blaze the trail for other pre-collegiate students to join the AFAR family. Jaime is Mat’s archaeology mentor before he started teaching.

Pictured left to right: Heath Bentley, Mat Saunders, Tom Wilkey, Jamie Awe. Heath and Tom were the first pioneers in 2006 to blaze the trail for other pre-collegiate students to join the AFAR family. Jaime is Mat’s archaeology mentor before he started teaching.

Recently, AFAR welcomed a new grandchild into the family of people who spend their summers digging in the hot sun to uncover stories of the past.  How is that possible?  It starts with Heath’s story…

Heath Bentley, with the OG 2006 crew, with his son, Jameson Pete Bentley - AFARs first grandson.

Heath Bentley, with the OG 2006 crew, with his son, Jameson Pete Bentley - AFARs first grandson.

Heath Bentley was one of the first four members of AFAR – the Pioneering Squad as Mat Saunders calls them.  In 2006 he traveled to Belize and did what hundreds of kids do now every summer.  Heath worked alongside Saunders in the early days when AFAR first launched in Florida.  Heath went on to Texas State University to study Archaeology because of his experience and the interest developed during his time with AFAR.  It gets better.  Texas State University later named him the Assistant Director at Cahal Pech, the Belize site that he worked on as a high school student. Today, Heath is a career Archaeologist, and the father of a boy. Jameson Pete Bentley, AFAR’s latest baby born into the family.

Heath, far left, and Tom, far right, on the first AFAR dig.

Heath, far left, and Tom, far right, on the first AFAR dig.

“I say we’re a family, because it truly feels that way,” says Saunders. “We do more than just keep in touch, we celebrate life moments – everything from 21st birthdays to newborn babies now.”

 Mat draws from his own experience with mentor, Jaime Awe.  Mat was a supervisor on the Belize Valley Archaeological Reconnaissance Project (BVAR) before he started teaching.  “Jaime was genuinely excited to hear what I’d been doing all year, and I couldn’t wait to tell him.  He’d always say a few words to introduce me to the crew, and I waited all year for that.”

Heath is not an exception to the more than 300 students who’ve graduated from AFAR and moved on – but stay in touch.  It’s part of the reason that AFAR boasts an 87% return rate.  Among the many job and college recommendation letters written, there are as many texts, with birthday wishes, condolences for losses and congratulations for reaching milestones.

Davidson Day School Class of 2018 Alum, and AFAR Alum, gathered recently at the Sanders’ home for a reunion. Left to right: Sarah Slay, Teagan Jams and Matthew Hines.

Davidson Day School Class of 2018 Alum, and AFAR Alum, gathered recently at the Sanders’ home for a reunion. Left to right: Sarah Slay, Teagan Jams and Matthew Hines.

“It’s a connection unlike anything I’ve experienced,” says Saunders.  “We work hard and play hard and from that mutual genuine interest, we become like family.”

 

 

Sherri Johnson