DANBURY, Conn. -- Adam Fox and six other rising freshmen from Danbury spent 10 days “roughing it” in the Daniel Barden Adventure Scholarships in the Adirondacks.
“Roughing it,’’ at least in the 2016 sense, would have merely been termed simply “camping“ 30 or 40 years ago. But with no cellphones, iPads, computers or other technological gadgets, coupled with strenuous physical demands, the experience opened the eyes of Adam and the other teenagers for whom a reliance on technology for entertainment has become a way of life .
“It definitely was an adjustment,’’ Adam said. “I had to get used to not having a computer or being able to watch anything. By the second or third day, I was starting to get comfortable with it. I was not used to not having any technology near me.”
The adventure is named after Daniel Barden, one of the Sandy Hook Elementary School students slain in the 2012 shootings. Students are selected for the adventure from a competitive selection process. The adventure is paid for by a scholarship set up through the Daniel Barden Mudfest, a trail race run each April in upstate New York.
Melissa and Dan Williams organize the race and the summer adventures. Dan’s sister, Karin, lives next to the Bardens in Sandy Hook. Frank LaBanca, Dan’s brother-in-law, is the principal at Westside Middle School Academy in Danbury. Frank, Karin, and Jessica and David Poyer, Dan's sister and brother-in-law, also help with the coordination of the Mudfest and Adventure program.
After attending young Daniel’s funeral, Melissa and Dan felt compelled to start a scholarship program for the other two Barden children. They also wanted to create a benefit to help other children explore the outdoors.
“We think being outdoors is a big part of a young person’s mental well-being,’’ Melissa said.
She said the purpose the adventure is to challenge the young teenagers and have them learn more about themselves. “We wanted them to be with complete strangers to find out who they are,’’ Melissa said. “We wanted to get them outside and away from their phones and televisions.”
The students from Danbury who attended the adventure over two sessions along with Adam, were Sarah Johnson, Robert Ivansco, Bruno Guzman, Jessica Quieros, Adamaris Lopez and Anita Castro. Students from central New York were also part of the adventure.
The teenagers traveled by canoe for 10 days on Tupper Lake, navigating 78 miles during their excursions. They carried canoes for up to a mile to their camp sites when they stopped for the night. They also had to set up their camp, cook their own meals and find their own entertainment. Pokeman Go was a goner ... at least for the duration of the trip.
“I really liked the challenge of it,’’ Adam said. “I didn’t think canoeing would be as hard as it was. I got pretty tired. I didn’t know it was possible to get so tired from canoeing or that I’d get these really nasty blisters on my hands.”
On the final night of the trip, the students found themselves separated from others by about 150 yards. They endured a "24-hour solo", Williams said, with nothing more than a whistle that they could use in emergencies, a little bit of food and their camping equipment.
“We had to improvise on our area in the woods,’’ Adam said. “It was hard, but I knew I could get through it. We had to find a way to do it.” Students were also given a journal and were asked to write themselves a letter that they turned over to the guides and will be mailed to them later.
Adam said he came away from the camp less inclined to dial into technological gadgetry and spend more time enjoying the outdoors. That’s precisely the idea of why Melissa and Dan started the camp.
“It was a little awkward at first, getting back to the usual routine after 10 days away,’’ Adam said. “Now, I still spend a decent amount of time on the computer. But I also know there are other things to do. Sometimes I’ll go out for a run for a couple of miles, and before I’d never used to do that. I find there are a lot of things I can do without a gadget.”