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Cranberry Middle School students complete “The Grandfather Challenge” at Grandfather Mountain!

Ten students from Cranberry Middle School in Avery County, 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.  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. 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 challenging hiking trails at Grandfather Mountain.   

The ten very special students who just completed this program are:  Will Polechio, Alma Hernandez, Caden Hughes, Caleb White, Kelsey Ferguson, Liliana Osorio, Austin Elliot, Charlee Williams, Jamison Mead, and Krista Ray. 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 !  

This group of middle school students was created with the full support of Dr. Jamie Johnson, Principal of Cranberry Middle School in Avery County, NC. School Counselor Jacqueline Aldridge carefully selected the students most likely to benefit from and fully complete this rigorous physical challenge. School teacher Mason Morris, intern Adrian Councilla, and retired school teacher Kim Morris served bravely as chaperones, and continuously provided counsel and encouragement to the students under their care. Each of these outstanding school staff members 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 our very experienced and fearless hike leaders Kevin Hagan and Juliana  Sprols, who provided lessons of leadership, teamwork, courage, and respect. These real-life lessons taken in the wilderness setting make a tremendous impact on these kids, and encourages them to face their struggles and challenges, and instills the concept that they can overcome their own unique challenges in life. These ten students quickly bonded with these fine leaders, and learned valuable lessons of leadership and team unity.   

James and Cheryl Nipper have received broad community support for their program from local Avery County  charitable organizations such as the High Country Charitable Foundation,  the AMY Wellness Foundation, Run For Holland Foundation, Valle Country Fair, and the Grandfather Community Foundation, together with many private donors who have provided generous support and encouragement.  Avery County Schools Superintendent Dr. Dan Brigman has heartily endorsed the program, and the staff and administration of various Avery County schools have helped make this program a success. Jason’s parents are deeply appreciative of the community support they have received for this exciting program!     Now in its seventh season, this program is now serving students in Avery, Caldwell, Catawba, Lincoln, and Gaston counties.

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, chaperones, and hike leaders 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.