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River Bend Middle Schoolers Complete The Jason Project’s ‘Grandfather Challenge’

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: Aaron Bryant, Jesse Cortez, Christian Field, Elvis Garcia-Robles, Luiz Gutierrez-Reyes, Timothy Hambrick, Elijah Khampengphet, Kameron Phillips, Jonathan White, and Jordan Winchell.   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 River Bend Middle School Principal Chip Cathey, who volunteered to implement a pilot program for The Grandfather Challenge in Catawba County. Not only did Mr. Cathey himself drive a school bus from Claremont to Grandfather Mountain and back five times (including a “makeup” hike for three of his students who had missed a hike), but he also served as one of the school chaperones and completed each of the four rigorous hikes !! Organizers estimate that Mr. Cathey drove approximately 750 miles in order to transport his students to and from these hikes.

Principal Cathey truly exemplifies servant leadership in his school.

In addition to spearheading and leading a pilot program for Catawba County, Mr. Cathey has also proposed to the county a blended learning summer enrichment opportunity where students attend online classes through the use of online modules such as Canvass or Google Classroom; meet face to face in Catawba County several times for educational and volunteer civic activities; complete the four hikes; then attend the completion ceremony as a “graduation” activity.    What an opportunity that Mr. Cathey has proposed for credit recovery, which will likely increase graduation rates for these kids !!   The organizers of “The Grandfather Challenge” are hoping that this unique syllabus will be accepted not only by the full Catawba County School system, but will also serve as a model for other counties in the North Carolina school system.

In addition to Principal Cathey, School resource officers Victor Morales and Dale Lail also served admirably as chaperones.   Each of these adult chaperones did a wonderful job of accepting and completing “The Grandfather Challenge” course at Grandfather Mountain !

These hikes were conducted and supervised by Curtis Batten and Seth Barker 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 ten students quickly bonded with these fine young men, 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 Piccolo’s Italian Restaurant in Lenoir, 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.