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Caldwell County Students Bravely Complete “The Grandfather Challenge” at Grandfather Mountain!

Nine Students from Gamewell Middle School and West Caldwell High School in Lenoir, 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 nine very special students who just completed this program are: A’Nel Vernon, Jaliah Vernon, Christopher Herald, Brandon Rivera, Hunter Lambert, Andrew Barlow, Michael Hanan, Brandon Reid, and Joshua Hernandez. Each and every one of these very special students   did a wonderful job of accepting and completing “The Grandfather Challenge” course at Grandfather Mountain !

This group of middle school and high school students was created with the full support and assistance of Mrs. Anna Crooke, Principal of Gamewell Middle School, and Mr. Andy Puhl, Principal of West Caldwell High School, both of whom selected the students most likely to benefit from and fully complete this rigorous physical challenge.

Gamewell Middle School teacher Matt Ross drove the school bus for the four hikes, and also served as a chaperone. West Caldwell High School teacher Kevin Hagan also served as chaperone on each of the hikes. Both of these outstanding men provided leadership and encouragement of the students as they completed these challenging hikes. Their contributions were invaluable, and helped make this program a success for these kids.

These hikes were conducted and supervised by Jon Kelley and Jacob Caudill 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 www.amlnc.org). These nine students quickly bonded with these fine young people, and learned valuable lessons of servant-leadership and team unity.

The Jason Project, Inc. has formed alliances with the Avery, Catawba, Caldwell, and Yancey County School systems, representing a total of 15 high schools and 10 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 a special awards dinner and ceremony at Bella’s Italian Restaurant in Banner Elk, NC.

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 james@jamesnipper.com, or visit their Go Fund Me page at GoFundMe.com/TheJasonProject.