The Jason Project: Eight Local Students Complete the ‘Grandfather Challenge’

Published Wednesday, April 27, 2016 at 12:11 pm

Eight Students from Avery High School and the Blue Ridge Academy recently completed “The Grandfather Challenge” hiking program at Grandfather Mountain in Linville.

“The Grandfather Challenge” program is sponsored by The Jason Project, Inc., which was formed by the parents of Jason Matthew Nipper, who passed away in June of 2014 at age 26. This private foundation provides outdoor/wilderness and hiking excursions and similar programs which are designed to build self-confidence in struggling youth, as well as trust and positive rapport with adult mentors. Because of Jason’s abiding love of the outdoors and mountain hiking, James & Cheryl  have established  “The Grandfather Challenge,” through which students navigate all of the hiking trails at Grandfather Mountain.  Although the program includes at-risk kids suffering from mental problems and/or drug addictions, the program also seeks to assist any special kids who are struggling with personal adversities, including family, school, or other personal problems or challenges.The Jason Project

The eight very special students who just completed this program are: Austin Benfield, Dustin Hatley, Aaron McKinney, Hunter Mabry, Dustin Eudy, Daniel Ambrocio, Julissa Munoz, and Kimberly Calhoun. School chaperones who accompanied these students on various hikes are: Katie Pittman, Karen Tashner, Meridith Boothe, and Susan Stelling. Each and every one of these very special students and adult chaperones did a wonderful job of accepting and completing “The Grandfather Challenge” course at Grandfather Mountain ! Ms. Katie Pittman of Avery High School sums up her view of the program by saying: “The program seeks to assist students of multiple intellectual, behavioral and emotional levels.  Through overcoming literal and emotional obstacles, these students grow with their self-advocacy, asking for assistance, becoming resourceful and developing a team mentality.”

The Grandfather Challenge

These hikes were conducted and supervised by Tom Henry and Curtis Batten of Appalachian Mountain Leadership, which is a highly certified, experienced, and faith-based outfitter group headquartered in Boone, NC, which provides wilderness activities of various kinds, including extended wilderness excursions, rock climbing, overnight camping, and other experiences in which they teach servant leadership, wilderness management, discipline, and character building values and goals. (You can learn more about Appalachian Mountain Leadership by visiting their website at

Dr. David Burleson, as superintendent of the Avery County School system, was the program’s first partner to work with The Jason Project in implementing The Grandfather Challenge, and has been a primary source of support and encouragement. The non-profit organization has also formed an alliance with the Catawba and Caldwell County School systems, representing a total of 14 high schools and 9 middle schools.   Also, the Grandfather Mountain State Park of North Carolina (through its Superintendent Sue McBean) has issued a Special Activity Permit to the project, and the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation (with the support and encouragement of Jesse Pope) has issued a special pass for entrance to the Grandfather Mountain attractions. Jason’s parents are deeply appreciative of the community support they have received for this exciting program !

The Jason Project, Inc. provides hiking boots, backpacks, socks, raincoats, professional guides, and all other costs associated with this program. At the successful completion of each round of hikes, the youth participants are each given a Certificate Of Completion and a gift certificate at an awards ceremony in their honor. This current group just celebrated their achievements at Bella’s Italian Restaurant in Banner Elk.

Once again, our deepest thanks and appreciation goes out to all of these special students and chaperones who participated in “The Grandfather Challenge!”

Anyone seeking further information about “The Grandfather Challenge” and/or who may wish to sponsor a student may contact James or Cheryl Nipper at (828) 765-6561 or (904) 354-7378, or via email at [email protected], or visit their Go Fund Me page at



The Jason Project: The Grandfather Challenge

The Jason Project: The Grandfather Challenge

The Jason Project: The Grandfather Challenge

The Jason Project: The Grandfather Challenge

The Jason Project: The Grandfather Challenge

The Jason Project: The Grandfather Challenge

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