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The Grandfather Challenge: All-Girl Group from Catawba Climbs to Greater Heights

Eight Students from Jacobs Fork Middle School, River Bend Middle School, and Bandys High School in Catawba County, NC recently completed “The Grandfather Challenge” hiking program at Grandfather Mountain in Linville.  This is the first all-girl group to complete this rigorous course!

“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.Print

The eight very special students who just completed this program are: Layla Hambrick, Jakayla Nichols, Makayla Butler, Dashanti Mayfield, Amber O’Shields, Maxx Sigmon, Haley Keener, and Britton Sellers. Each and every one of these very special students did a wonderful job of accepting and completing “The Grandfather Challenge” course at Grandfather Mountain!

Very special thanks are due to Jacobs Fork Middle School Counselor Melanie Sigmon, who not only helped organize this multi-school group, but also served as a chaperone and completed each of the four rigorous hikes ! Mrs. Sigmon is a tireless advocate and supporter of “The Grandfather Challenge,” and has proven to be a highly capable counselor and mentor to these students not only during pre-hike planning, but also during the challenging hikes themselves.   We also give thanks to Dr. Thomas Howell, Principal of Jacobs Fork Middle School, for supporting our program and allowing Mrs. Sigmon to devote her time and efforts to this project.

Mr. Chip Cathey, Principal of River Bend Middle School, is the Catawba County coordinator for The Jason Project, and worked closely with Melanie Sigmon and other school staff to assemble this wonderful group of girls to take part in “The Grandfather Challenge.” Mr. Cathey also served as the bus driver and chaperone on two of the four hikes. His energy and enthusiasm for this program is invaluable, and he truly exemplifies servant leadership in his school !

In addition to Principal Cathey and Melanie Sigmon, Mr. David Childers of River Bend Middle School also served admirably as a chaperone on two of the hikes.   Mr. Childers did a wonderful job of helping lead these girls in “The Grandfather Challenge!”

These hikes were conducted and supervised by Tom Henry and Hannah Gaddini 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 eight students quickly bonded with these fine young leaders, and learned valuable lessons of leadership and team unity.

The Jason Project, Inc. has formed alliances with the Avery, 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, 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.