July 05, 2006
Journey For Change Begins
It has been a long journey for hearts and minds, but after weeks of hard work, eight young people from Connecticut are set to embark on a life-altering voyage to Greenport in a canoe they built from scratch.
The boat has been months in the making. It was built by participants of the Youth Center for Change program, an alternative to incarceration in Middletown, Connecticut. The project was geared for young people from the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Program between the ages of 16 and 20.
After a successful sea trial last week, the canoe has been deemed ready to set sail, and it will arrive in Greenport next Wednesday, after journeying down the Connecticut River and across the Long Island Sound. The trip is a reenactment of the trade crossings Native Americans made before Columbus discovered America, said Greenport Mayor David Kapell.
The completion of the dugout is a celebration for all involved, including members of the Mohegan Tribe of Connecticut and Ron Klattenberg, a Middletown councilman, who joined forces to ensure the success of the endeavor. Klattenberg said the goal of the project was to imbue young hearts and minds with the cultural and historical relevance of constructing a canoe.
No project of this type has ever been attempted before in New England. Research for the canoe's design was conducted at the Mashantucket-Pequot Museum & Research Center and The Institute for American Studies.
"This is not just an adventure," said Klattenberg. "It is has cultural importance and historical importance."
The program also symbolizes a life-changing passage for participants, such as Michael *, a recovering drug addict who has spent the past several months at Community Solutions, Inc. a private, non-profit Connecticut criminal justice agency that offers alternatives to incarceration for young people who've been in trouble with the law.
Marcus, also involved in the program, grew up knowing no other life than that of the streets. He began selling drugs at a young age and said he found himself facing a bleak future.
The young men bonded over the canoe-building experience and will see the fruits of their labor take shape on Saturday when they set off for Greenport in a 35-foot, 10-seat dugout canoe they helped carve from a fallen 45-foot Eastern cottonwood tree. Construction began on May 18.
The project was conceived by George Frick of the volunteer group Friends of the Connecticut River and shepherded by James Greene, an attorney with Connecticut's judicial branch's court support services division and Judge Robert Holzberg of the Middletown Superior Court. Young people from communities, including New Haven, Middletown, and Hartford were involved.
Participants will cross the Long Island Sound in both the dugout and another canoe, with two ships surrounding them for safety.
Constructing the canoe was an eye-opening experience, said Flannigan Smith, community service coordinator for Community Solutions, Inc., and paddling it could prove to be life changing.
The young men will be relying on strength, teamwork and trust to get them across the Sound to Greenport safely. The feeling among them is, "If we do this and make it all the way over to Greenport, it's going to be life-altering," said Smith.
Smith said typically, community service projects involve general maintenance and cleanup. "Nothing is quite as rewarding or as involved as this."
When Klattenberg approached Mayor Kapell about Greenport as a destination, the mayor was enthused and noted that the event will coincide with this week's Fleet Week festivities, when scores of midshipmen will be present to herald the canoe's arrival in the village.
"What a welcome committee we will have on hand!" said Kapell.
* Last names have been withheld to protect the identities of program participants.