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Avery Middle School Students Complete ‘The Grandfather Challenge’ at Grandfather Mountain

Ten Students from Avery Middle School in Newland, NC 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 was formed to host this unique hiking program, which is 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 very special students who just completed this program are: Andrew Chicoine, Selena Calloway, Alvin Juarez-Romero, Aiden Dale, Cory McCloud, Emily Austin, Faith Hodges, Jamie Black, and Skyla Ervin. Each and every one of these very special students did a wonderful job of accepting and completing “The Grandfather Challenge” course at Grandfather Mountain, and in so doing, they all demonstrated courage, skill, and commitment to purpose!

School Principal Ruth Shirley and School Counselor Allison Phillips carefully selected the students most likely to benefit from and fully complete this rigorous physical challenge, and continuously provided counsel and encouragement to the students under their care. Both of these dedicated educators, together with school teacher Mark Guinn, also served as chaperones for the group. These fine educators are some of the most dedicated school personnel that the organizers of The Jason Project have ever had the pleasure of working with, and they provided leadership and encouragement to the students as they completed these challenging hikes. Their contributions were invaluable, and helped make this program a tremendous success for these kids.

These hikes were conducted and supervised by experienced hike leaders Bill Hoag and Bob Kilcullen, who led this group through this rigorous series of hikes, providing lessons of leadership, teamwork, courage, and respect. These real-life lessons taken in the wilderness setting make a tremendous impact on these kids, encourages them to face their struggles and challenges, and instills the concept that they can overcome their own unique challenges in life.

The underlying goal of “The Grandfather Challenge” program is to use the adventure of mountain hiking and climbing, coupled with the leadership skills of experienced mentors and hike leaders, to teach at-risk kids that through perseverance and commitment, they can overcome their unique challenges in life. These committed hike leaders try to instill in these kids that they have strengths and abilities far beyond what they can imagine. Through wilderness adventure and leadership mentoring, they try to “plant the seeds” in the minds and hearts of these at-risk youngsters that they can overcome major Challenges in their lives.

The Jason Project, Inc. has formed alliances with the Avery, Catawba, Caldwell, Lincoln, and Gaston County School systems, serving many middle schools and high 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. Although “The Grandfather Challenge” is not affiliated with or part of the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation or Grandfather Mountain State Park, the Foundation is very proud to acknowledge that they both support our program and its mission. 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 a special awards dinner and ceremony at Bella’s Italian Restaurant in Banner Elk, NC.

The Jason Project founders are proud to acknowledge that this school group was sponsored by a generous grant from the High Country Charitable Foundation, and they are so grateful and humbled for their support and recognition of this unique program !

Anyone seeking further information about “The Grandfather Challenge” and/or who may wish to sponsor a student or full school group may contact James or Cheryl Nipper at

(828) 765-6561 or (904) 354-7378, or via email at james@jamesnipper.com, or visit their Go Fund Me page at GoFundMe.com/TheJasonProject.