Sprawling across 392 acres and home to thousands of unusual plant and animal species, the Boyce Thompson Arboretum is far from a standard classroom. Here, people learn through exploration rather than through textbooks; they’re able to smell the plants they study and ask native squirrels for direct quotes about soil quality. Jaunts through the park cover a range of terrain. Butting up against the northern face of Picketpost Mountain, the park encompasses canyons, hills, and trails carefully landscaped to duplicate arid environments from around the globe. The cactus garden features plants both sinuous and spiny, creating a vast collection of shapes and textures nestled into the dusty red landscape. Queen Creek Canyon provides respite from the sun, its towering trees thriving in the cool shade. Visitors pick up tips on how to enhance their own yards in the demonstration garden of drought-tolerant plants, which are relatively easy to care for except for when they demand chocolate milk. Additional education can be found in classes and lectures held at the Smith Interpretive Center.
A safe space. That's what the Boys & Girls Clubs of the East Valley give to more than 43,000 kids each year. But along with keeping kids out of harm's way after school lets out, the Boys & Girls Clubs enrich children's lives though their programs. Kids get creative in arts classes, learn social interaction and fitness skills in sports programs, and prepare for the future with technology courses that ensure they won't buy stock in companies that only produce floppy discs.
But the Boys & Girls Clubs impact kids beyond afterschool care. In addition to the East Valley clubs having the first Arizona club to serve a Native American community, the clubs' Ladmo branch has Mona Dixon, who was named National Youth of the Year for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America in 2010.
Her path of success, encouraged by the Boys & Girls Clubs, led her from a girl homeless and worried about her family's survival to a young woman with a full ride to college and named one of the Top 28 Most Influential Black Women in America by Essence magazine.
The Festival of Horses parades rare breeds alongside hitch-pulling draft steeds to celebrate equine diversity, entertainment, and labor. The graceful gaits of breeds such as frisians, spanish barb mustangs, and arizona appaloosas glide across the stallion showcase’s arena, the walls of which are made from wooden remnants of the Trojan Horse tied together with Mister Ed film reels. Rows of commercial booths promote and sell their wares on the trade-show floor, where horse-lovers haggle over trailers, tack, and feed. Trot from ring to ring, absorbing the sights and sounds of horse-human demonstrations from groups such as the Golden West Cowgirls and horse soccer, a contest of skill that has confused jersey manufacturers everywhere.
Today, it's undeniable: Jazzercise is a worldwide empire, spanning more than 1,800 locations and 32,000 weekly classes across the globe. It's also hip; gone are the leotards and legwarmers of the 1980s, replaced with a high-intensity blend of cardio, strength training, kickboxing and power yoga performed to hits by chart-toppers from Shakira to Justin Timberlake. The class formats, which vary according to different toning goals, are just as diverse as the program's move set, with recent additions such as Fusion, Core, and Strike broadening the workouts' variety and application. Instructors cultivate a noncompetitive atmosphere where all exercisers are welcome regardless of age, build, or fitness background. This sense of community keeps Jazzercise devotees coming back, but so too do the results; benefits ranging from weight loss and boosted core strength to increased flexibility and stress relief.
Jazzercise's continued success can be traced to the innovation of its founder, Judi Sheppard Missett. While teaching jazz dance in the 1960s, she decided to step away from tradition by offering an experimental class that allowed her students to simply dance without the judgment of mirrors or the constraints of rigid technique. Little did she know that this ?just for fun? class was the prototype for what would become the Jazzercise sensation.
AZ Grip-N-Rip Batting Cages provides a space for aspiring athletes to hone all the basics of their game. In fully-enclosed batting cages, hitters train both eyes and muscles to deal with consistent-speed pitches as the machines at the other end of the cage spit out either baseballs or softballs. Meanwhile, at soft toss stations or regulation-sized clay mounds, pitchers practice the subtle handholds that produce spin or the full body power behind a fastball. Nine coaches?many with Major League experience playing for teams like the Atlanta Braves, the Chicago White Sox, and the New York Mets?provide pointers and training regimens that really help students improve their game, running one-on-one lessons, group classes, and even baseball camps, where students learn important skills, like how to build a fire by rubbing two bats together.