Alums capture youth voice in Young Americans Project trip

by Sam Rendall | 10/14/05 5:00am

Adam White '05, Matt Heineman '05 and Ben Grinnell '05 are on the road to exploring America's future.

The three recent Dartmouth graduates have joined with Boston College senior Matt Wiggins to capture the voice of the nation's youth through a three-month recreational vehicle ride across all 48 continental states. They call the trip The Young Americans Project.

"To some, America's youngest adult generation is viewed as a nameless and voiceless band, unified only by clustered birth dates," the project's mission statement reads. "But the young men and women of America are in fact a burgeoning and dynamic class that is coming of age in the post-9/11 era. They are working to find their place in a changing world, growing into their adult skin and yearning to be heard."

The group will tell these stories as they write a book, produce a film and maintain a website about their journey.

Heineman and Grinnell came up with the idea for the multimedia journey last winter.

"Matt and Ben came to me with the idea early in the Winter term of our senior year," White said. "At that time, it was just a trip around the country, and they knew they wanted to talk to people, but the idea had some evolving to do."

Even as support grew, some of the team members doubted the project would ever get off the ground until juice company Nantucket Nectars agreed to sponsor much of the group's trip.

"[I] still can't really believe it," Heineman wrote in his online biography.

Not everyone, however, shared Heineman's skepticism.

"When Heineman called me around midnight on Jan. 6, 2005 to tell me about his 'idea' " I knew this project would happen," Wiggins said.

Each member of the group is playing a specific role in the project.

White, a former columnist for The Dartmouth, is the group's writing expert in charge of documenting "people places and anything else." For his senior creative writing thesis, White wrote a novel that he still hopes to get published.

Heineman, a veteran photographer who pioneered a philanthropic project last year to benefit an orphanage in Bangladesh, is responsible for filming and photographing the journey.

Grinnell is in charge of organizing service events for the project, while Wiggins will focus on producing the film and assembling music for the documentary's score.

So far, the experience has measured up to the group's expectations.

"It's been great so far," White said. "We've ironed out a lot of the kinks, and other than the occasional disagreement, everything is going well. The people we've met have been extraordinary."

The people and events the group has encountered have made their trip as exciting as they had predicted while keeping things unpredictable.

"Something unusual happens everywhere we go. That's the nature of the trip," he said. "Last night Ben and Matt fought each other with padded swords and shields as part of Medieval Night at Iowa State. You can't plan that kind of stuff."

Nantucket Nectars and Penske Corporation have financed the majority of the project, scheduled to conclude Dec. 21, but the four young Americans have also contributed some of their own money and would appreciate outside support.

"In order to make sure we finish the journey, we're asking for donations from anyone who would like to see the project become a success," White said.