The Ultimate Fighter
Aniah Blanchard had a heart of gold.
The cheerful 19-year-old always wanted to help people, no matter the circumstance, and that’s why she would be incredibly proud of her parents, Angela and Walt Harris.
In July 2020, Angela and Walt established Aniah’s Heart, a non-profit that provides resources and help for families searching for missing loved ones and teaches families self-defense and awareness training.
The kidnapping and death of Aniah in late 2019 was an unimaginable tragedy that no parent should ever endure. But the Harris family was determined that their suffering wouldn’t be in vain.
“After we found out what had happened to Aniah, the message came from her,” said Angela Harris. “I could hear her saying to me, ‘We have to help people, and we can’t let this happen to people. “I knew I had to do something to help save lives and prevent people from being abducted and becoming a victim of violence. That’s when we decided to teach people about all of this and start our foundation.”
Aniah's Heart Foundation
Aniah's Heart Foundation
Aniah’s Heart focuses on providing safety education to prevent kidnapping and to support families that are searching for a loved one. The Harris’s hope that their willingness to be an open book about what happened to Aniah can help spread awareness of how to prevent abduction and offer parents and families someone to relate to in the darkest of times.
“In the midst of all the turmoil we were going through, we didn’t know where to turn during those first hours of abduction, which are the most critical,” remarked Walt Harris. “An important aspect of our foundation is to help guide families and loved ones during those times, as everything is a whirlwind and it’s very traumatizing. From our personal experience, we might be able to comfort families and help point them in the right direction.”
The foundation delivers important safety education through live talks on Zoom and Facebook, as well as supplying groups with monthly safety care packages. It’s an endless task, but Angela hopes that she can eventually have a mobile self-defense class to spread awareness around the United States.
“If this can happen to Aniah, then it can happen to anyone. No one is immune to being a victim. She was a normal girl, doing a normal thing and an evil person took her life, and we want people to be aware of that,” Angela said. “My goal is to reach as many people as possible and help everyone implement a plan. Even before you leave your safe place, you need to have a plan to keep yourself safe. That’s crucial education.”
Aniah’s Heart also offers funding for searches that can have expensive costs for elements such as manpower, equipment, resources, helicopters, lodging and any other expenses that desperate families can’t afford.
“When a family member has a missing loved one, you really don’t know what you need to do. The contributions we receive for Aniah’s Heart will go towards lodging, food, travel and other costs you just wouldn’t think about. We needed clothes on the fly, food and a place to stay when everything first happened,” said Walt. “It becomes very, very expensive very quickly, and we realized how much goes into everything in real time. In those moments, parents aren’t even thinking of anything related to those things. You don’t think about renting a helicopter that costs $10,000 to search the areas from the air, you are just doing anything you can to try and find your child. We want to ease that stress as families are going through and those issues in the middle of that horrible process. We just want to be a buffer and blessing in that situation.”
Over the past few months, Walt and Angela have worked directly on 15 abduction cases, and they receive calls and messages every day from people in need. It’s overwhelming, but they feel blessed that they can be resource for others.
They also know that this Aniah is working alongside them.
“We know we are working with Aniah on this,” Angela said. “Walt and I know she would have loved helping people in their true time of need. She was the most amazing person ever and her death won’t be in vain. This is how we will honor her.”
The foundation focuses on Four Key Safety Areas of Service, with the goal of finishing Aniah’s fight by fighting for the lives of others:
1). Safety and Awareness Education: Live Talks, taking place on social media, are information-driven sessions that disseminate tips, personal safety strategies, and heightened awareness of potential safety risks to those vulnerable to potential violent crimes.
2.) Self-Defense Training: Local in-person and mobile sessions provide skills training from expert instructors to people of all ages.
3.) Search and Rescue: Aniah’s Heart Foundation is a fundamental resource for organizing and providing support for search and rescue field operations that align with state and local officials (*More than 600,000 people are abducted in the United States annually).
4.) Support Families of Missing Victims: Help families survive, manage, recover and cope from the crisis of being victimized.
UFC contributed $25,000 to help support the launch of Aniah’s Heart. In addition, UFC has pledged to continue its support of the foundation by raising additional funds and awareness on an annual basis.
Please visit ANIAH’S HEART for information on how you can contribute.