NORWICH – Participating in The Leadership Project during his senior year was a life-changing experience, according to Elliott Stewart, who was one of 25 Norwich High School students to attend a four-day retreat in the Adirondacks in early June as part of the pilot program. The experience meant so much to him, in fact, that he wants to make sure other kids have that same opportunity, even if it means raising the necessary money himself.
“(I want) to keep it going, to help kids like it did me,” Stewart explained, adding that he would like to see the program continue so it can “give other kids the chance to change and to find themselves,” as he said it did for him.
Knowing that it would take money to keep the new program going, the 18-year old decided to turn an upcoming trip to California, where he planned to hike at Yosemite National Park, into a fundraiser. Less than two weeks before he was scheduled to fly out, Stewart began soliciting donations. Before embarking, he had received pledges totally more than $900 toward his cause.
Last week, Stewart earned those donations by hiking the most grueling, dangerous trail at Yosemite National Park in California: the nearly 17-mile Half Dome trail. He has told his friends back home that it was the hardest thing he’d ever done in his life. Hikers gain more than 4,800 feet in elevation from the Yosemite Valley floor during the 10 to 12 hour hike, which is rated as extreme in terms of difficulty. The last 400 feet of the ascent are made using metal cables affixed to the bare rock.
Completing the physically and mentally challenging hike is something Stewart probably wouldn’t have contemplated before participating in The Leadership Project.
“That was the first time I’ve ever hiked,” he explained, referring to his 6 mile trek up Whiteface with the retreats other participants.
According to Norwich High School Science Teacher Joe Maiurano, who is the driving force behind the pilot project, Stewart’s story is different from the other participants in the program. While those other students were nominated to participate by faculty members, Stewart was not.
“Elliott came to me,” Maiurano explained. “He had the courage to ask to participate.”..