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River Bend Middle School Students Climb To Greater Heights As They Complete ‘The Grandfather Challenge’ at Grandfather Mountain

Ten Students from the River Bend Middle School in Claremont, 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 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 ten very special students who just completed this program are: Sumchee Thongsy, Leo Vang, Abigail Craig, Austin Malinoski, Elijah (Izzy) Israel, Damian Sipe, Aurora Hefner, Alisa Passmore, Keen Yang, and William Hammett. Each and every one of these very special students did a wonderful job of accepting and completing “The Grandfather Challenge” hiking course at Grandfather Mountain!

Very special thanks and recognition are due to River Bend Middle School Principal Chip Cathey, who volunteered not only to serve as the school chaperone, but also drove a school bus from Claremont to Grandfather Mountain multiple times so that his students could participate in this rigorous weekly four-hike series. Organizers estimate that Mr. Cathey drove approximately 500 miles in order to transport his students to and from these hikes! Principal Cathey truly exemplifies servant leadership, and relentlessly demonstrates a love and concern for the welfare of the students at his school!

These hikes were conducted and supervised by Bill Hoag and Brandon Pelfrey of Thrifty Adventures, which is a highly certified, experienced, and diverse outfitter group headquartered in Spruce Pine, NC, which provides wilderness activities of various kinds, including wilderness excursions, rock climbing, overnight camping, kayaking, and other experiences in which they teach wilderness skills, leadership, discipline, and character building values and goals.      (You can learn more about Thrifty Adventures by visiting their website at www.thriftyadventures.com) These highly experienced guides mentored these students and taught them lessons of leadership, team unity, and respect for nature and for each other. These ten students quickly bonded with these outstanding leaders, and gained more self-esteem and confidence as they progressed through these hikes.

Now in its third season, The Jason Project, Inc. has formed alliances with the Avery, Catawba, Caldwell, Gaston and Lincoln County School systems.  Community support has been remarkable. 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 organizers of The Jason Project are very proud to acknowledge that they both support this 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 Bella’s Italian Restaurant in Banner Elk, NC.

Once again, our deepest thanks and appreciation goes out to all of these special students, school chaperone, 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 or student 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.