A friend of mine recently told me about the transformative experience that her young child had while participating in the Wilderness Youth Project, and how a growing connection with nature was making her son happier and more confident. That’s no surprise to Dan Fontaine, the project’s executive director, who explains, “I grew up in an era when nature was the most fun thing you could do.”
WYP is a nonprofit organization that offers after-school, school-day, and summer programs to foster health and learning for young people and their families through active outdoor experiences and mentoring. The project returns today’s digitally focused kids back to more traditional notions of childhood, bringing them outside to explore, gain self-esteem, and develop meaningful relationships with the natural world. “What we do is tangible,” says Dan.
He came to Santa Barbara to study engineering at UCSB, but knew he wanted to chart a different course even before graduation. Dan worked as an engineer for a couple of years, but then quit, traveled, and reinvented himself. In 2001, he participated in a tracking program at the Wilderness Youth Project and has been there ever since, becoming involved in every aspect of the organization.
Dan is always looking for avenues for self-reflection and personal growth. As a matter of fact, I met him at a retreat for executive directors called Courage to Lead. He’s a very quick-witted individual, and is constantly coming up with new terms like “Goletist” (someone who loves living in Goleta) and “Danarchy” (the state of being part of his world).
Here, he comes inside to answer the Proust Questionnaire.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Perfect happiness for me is when my values feel completely cohesive with what I do and see happening around me.
What is the quality you most like in people?
Authenticity and self-awareness. When those are present, it is less important than what we have in common.
What is your most marked characteristic?
Integrity is the characteristic I aim for. To me it means being whole.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I continually work to fend off cynicism.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Having a daughter. She’s just three months old now, so I’ve pretty much forgotten everything I ever accomplished before that.
What do you like most about your job?
I get to work with a lot of great people and I get to do a lot of different things, and I get to see the results of my work in the place that I live.
What is your greatest fear?
Who do you most admire?
Lloyd Anderson. There is deep accord between his values and his lifestyle, he is one of the most generous people I know, and he helped me in a difficult time.
What is your greatest extravagance?
Really froofy beer in unnecessarily fancy packaging.
What is your current state of mind?
Gratitude. There is so much to be grateful for.
What is the quality you most dislike in people?
The only thing that really makes me mad is when somebody is mean to someone I love.
What do you most value in friends?
Back to authenticity. And it helps a lot if they are funny, too.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
“(You see) the thing is…”, “like”, “so called.”
Which talent would you most like to have?
I love to be able to sing, play an instrument, and dance.
Where would you most like to live?
Goleta. I’m a Goletist.
What is your most treasured possession?
When I was evacuated by one of the recent fires, I remember taking my journals, a ukulele that a friend made for me, and a watercolor that a friend painted for me.
Who makes you laugh the most?
I like quite a few comedians. Gabriel Iglesias comes to mind, and a lesser known folk singer named John Cragie.
What is your motto?
Nothing goes without saying. Because it’s true.
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
William Clark. I’m not sure if I necessarily identify with him, but it would’ve been really gratifying to be him.
On what occasion do you lie?
Only to my mother.