SPRINGFIELD (AP) – It’s a long way from the bright lights of New York City to the remote wilds of northern Maine.

In Manhattan, Jackie Danforth grew up with celebrity parents: TV news personality Barbara Walters and the late Lee Guber, a Broadway producer. As a teenager, Danforth plunged into marijuana and methamphetamine, got kicked out of prep school and ran away from home.

In the backwoods of Maine, Danforth, now 35, runs a business to help teenage girls who are experiencing the kind of problems she had two decades ago. At New Horizons for Young Women, at-risk girls spend weeks at a time canoeing, camping, hiking and otherwise living in the outdoors while being treated by professional therapists.

It’s a blend of Outward Bound and Dr. Phil.

It seems only fitting that Danforth has found her calling helping girls with low self-esteem who are depressed and angry. Those feelings drove her to drugs and got her kicked out of a prestigious school on the Upper East Side. Gangly, freckle-faced and uncomfortable in her 6-foot body, Danforth felt out of place in the world.

When she was 14, she would dress up in fishnet stockings and leather miniskirts and sneak out late at night to the Studio 54 nightclub. When she was 15, she ran away from home, hitching rides with truckers and ex-cons. “I’m lucky I didn’t die,” she said.

After she ran away, her mother sent her to an alternative school in Idaho and hired an ex-Green Beret as an escort to make sure she got there. That’s where Danforth spent her final years of high school and put some semblance of order into her life.

In an office in the main building on the New Horizons campus, Danforth sits comfortably on a couch with her husband and describes how she has come to help teenage girls in much the same way her mother rescued her from her depths.

“The satisfaction I get is knowing that the girls who were similar to me have a place to go where people truly understand,” Danforth said.

Walters and Guber, her second husband, adopted Danforth in 1968 and named her Jacqueline. Walters, who steps down this fall as host of ABC’s “20/20,” said she is as proud of her daughter today as she was frantic about her 20 years ago.

She has visited New Horizons several times and is not surprised that her daughter created the program.

“I could understand it because of her own experience and feelings,” Walters said in a phone interview from New York. “And I am hugely proud. To have accomplished what they have accomplished is just amazing.”

Springfield, pop. 400, is more distant from New York than just the 500 miles of blacktop that separate them.

In this area of Maine, paved roads are scarce and diversions come in the form of fishing, hunting, snowmobiling and other outdoor activities. The nearest movie theater is in Bangor, more than an hour’s drive away. You won’t find a stoplight or a pay phone in town.

Danforth had the idea for New Horizons in 2000, a year or so after moving to Maine from Washington state. At various points in her life, she had flitted with the idea of being a fashion designer, a video producer and a veterinarian’s assistant. She moved to Maine in hopes of becoming a marine biologist.

She enrolled at the University of Maine, but going to college at 31 held little appeal. At that point it dawned on her what she should be doing: Helping at-risk teenage girls.

“I’ve always felt I was meant to start something like this,” she said.

She formed a business and bought 308 acres of fields and woods off a deep-rutted dirt road in Springfield. She hired licensed therapists and other staff. She marketed the program. In June 2001, New Horizons welcomed its first girls.

The girls are 13 to 18. They stay from six to nine weeks at a cost of roughly $20,000 to $30,000.

When they arrive, the girls are stripped of clothes, makeup and jewelry, and forced to wear program-issued clothes – socks, underwear and swimsuits included. This is to deter petty competition over designer clothing, and to encourage the girls to look inside themselves.

There are no TVs or radios. If the girls want music, they sing. They don’t have clocks or watches, and mirrors are taboo to discourage vanity.

In summer, the girls are out in the wilderness, canoeing lakes and rivers and camping out. In spring and fall, they hike with backpacks and camp along the Appalachian Trail. In winter, they spend three days a week in a cabin on the New Horizons campus; the rest of the time is spent camping on a nearby lake in canvas tents with wood-burning stoves.

The girls learn to pitch tents, cut wood, wash their clothes and cook on open fires and wood stoves.

The program is designed to teach the girls everyday challenges in the peace and serenity of the outdoors. Although the program is in the wilderness, Danforth says it does not teach survival, but rather how to live.

Inside a cabin nestled among pine trees near the main building, a small group of students talk about their experiences. They see therapists twice a week for individual sessions, and once weekly for a group session.

Their emotional, physical and group goals are written on a marker board on the cabin wall. There is also a saying by poet W.B. Yeats: “Happiness is neither virtue nor pleasure, nor this thing or that, but simply growth.”

Along with being taught to tie knots and make a fire, Victoria Pullella, a 14-year-old from Ohio with a big smile and braces, has learned to question her decisions, work with others and look to her future. She has taken to meditating and writing about her feelings.

“I’ve learned so much cool stuff here – about myself,” she said.

Jessica Freedman, 17, of New York City, added, “I’ve learned to express my emotions and to establish a relationship with my parents.”

Danforth, too, feels she has grown. After bouncing around from job to job in Oregon and Washington in the years following high school, she says she has found her home in Maine.

She and her husband, Mark Danforth, have been married three years. He is a registered Maine guide and New Horizons’ director of operations. They live in Orrington, a town outside Bangor.

Danforth is prone to wearing baseball hats and blue jeans, and says Maine fits her down-to-earth lifestyle.

Life nowadays is far different than when she sat at her mother’s side while she interviewed the likes of Jimmy Carter, Menachem Begin, Anwar Sadat and Burt Reynolds. Or when she watched her father’s Broadway shows from backstage. Or when Carol Channing was like an aunt to her. Or when she would sit in the lap of Yul Brynner, the star of her father’s production of “The King and I.”

Yet for all the changes in Danforth’s life, New Horizons serves as a connection with Danforth’s past. In each girl who attends, she sees a bit of herself.

On the Net:

New Horizons for Young Women: www.daughtersatrisk.com

AP-ES-04-03-04 1206EST

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.