HARTFORD, Conn. — Waterford Group Chairman Len Wolman builds hotels from the ground up, but today, he will see how it feels to go from the top down.
Wolman will be among the 115 people expected to rappel down the side of the 22-story Hilton Hartford on Trumbull Street — one of three hotels in downtown Hartford owned and managed by Waterford — as a fundraiser for charity.
Waterford is partnering with Shatterproof, a new Norwalk-based organization that is bringing attention to the problem of alcohol and drug addiction among children and young adults.
Wolman said he invited his employees to participate but knew he couldn't leave it at that: "I felt I needed to sign on myself."
Wolman said he has not rappelled before, but he has bungee jumped — with his son, off a bridge in New Zealand, about five years ago. His son talked him into it. He doesn't know how far he jumped but said that walking down the full length of the Hilton — about 200 feet — may be the greater distance.
"As the time gets a little closer, I'm getting a little more nervous," Wolman said. "But I'm doing it."
He's thought about his strategy for the 12- to 15-minute descent: "When I drop off the building, I'm going to look straight at the building when I go down."
And how is Wolman with heights?
"It's not my favorite," he said.
But Wolman said the challenge will be worth it, given what Shatterproof is trying to accomplish
He said he has known Shatterproof's founder and chief executive, Gary Mendell, for years. Mendell founded HEI Hotels & Resorts, also based in Norwalk. Mendell left the day-to-day operations of HEI, where he was CEO, to focus full time on building the nonprofit Shatterproof, though he remains an owner of HEI.
Mendell was moved to found Shatterproof last year, following the 2011 death of his son, Brian, who struggled with addiction.
After his son's death, he realized there was no national organization calling attention to the problem of addiction in young people, Mendell said in an interview Friday. He said he hopes Shatterproof will become to addiction what Susan B. Komen is to breast cancer or the American Heart Association is to heart disease.
Mendell said the name Shatterproof comes from a startling statistic he learned in his research.
"Three hundred and fifty families a day are shattered by addiction," Mendell said. "Three hundred and fifty people die from alcohol poisoning or drug addiction every day in the U.S."
Mendell said he chose rappelling rather than the more typical walks, runs or bicycle rides to make a dramatic statement as the nonprofit launched.
On Tuesday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m, three ropes will hang down the facade of the Hilton, with rappellers descending throughout the day. As of late Friday, there were nine slots left. Participants pay an $25 entrance fee and are required to raise at least $1,000 in pledges.
The event is run by a professional company, Over the Edge, which also provides training.
Hartford is the seventh location to host a Shatterproof rappelling event this year, with five more to go. Wolman and Mendell will go down the building at 9 a.m.
"This disease is such a dire disease," Wolman said. "It's so critical that something get done."
For more information on Shatterproof, or to register for one of the remaining slots in Hartford next week, visit http://www.shatterproof.org.