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York Chester Middle School Students Bravely Complete ‘The Grandfather Challenge’ at Grandfather Mountain

Nine students from York Chester Middle School in Gastonia, 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: Tristen Sams, Hunter Bryan, Raul VillaFuerte, Dakota Fowler, Peshence McCray, Jacob Stamm, Ricky Phillips, Shelby Pfancook, and Adin Shook. 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!

School Principal Dr. Amy Holbrook, working together with her school counselors, carefully selected the students most likely to benefit from and fully complete this rigorous physical challenge, and continuously provided counsel and encouragement to the students under their care. Principal Holbrook and social studies teacher James Kissane served as chaperones, and Dr. Holbrook drove a school bus over 600 miles in order to participate in the four major hikes! These fine educators are some of the most dedicated school personnel that the organizers of The Jason Project have ever had the pleasure of working with, and they 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.

We were also very honored to have York Chester Middle School Coach Michele Radford and teacher Evan Rankin drive up from Gastonia and provide logistical support to drive the bus back to the end-of-day trailhead, and then attend the Awards Dinner and support these kids as they celebrated their accomplishments! York Chester English teacher Kayla Barrett also attended the event and celebrated with some of her students.

These hikes were conducted and supervised by highly experienced and capable hike leaders Kevin Hagan and Wes Bartek who taught these students valuable lessons of leadership, courage, teamwork, discipline, and character building values and goals. These nine students quickly bonded with these fine young leaders and learned valuable lessons on leadership and team unity. Our hike leaders are truly the heartbeat of our program, and we could not attain the goals that we seek without their full devotion and commitment to our mission!

The Jason Project, Inc. has formed alliances with the Avery, Catawba, Caldwell, Lincoln, and Gaston County School systems, serving many middle schools and high 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. 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 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.