Jacob’s Fork Students ‘Fly Like Eagles’ to Complete the Grandfather Challenge

Published Thursday, August 18, 2016 at 2:13 pm

Nine Students from Jacob’s Fork Middle School in Newton, 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: Seth Hendrix, Shawn Vang, Kadyn Pompa-Huerta, Jack Vang, Tanner Lowman, Jayden Williams,   Logan Gray, Jordan Wescott, and Jeremy Pompa-Huerta. Each and every one of these very special students  did a wonderful job of accepting and completing “The Grandfather Challenge” course at Grandfather Mountain!

This group of middle school students was created as part of an alliance between Jacob’s Fork Middle School and the Zion Lutheran Church of Hickory as part of their ongoing EAGLE’S program, which is a tutoring and mentoring program sponsored by the church, which works in partnership with local public schools. The EAGLES acronym stands for Education, Adventure, God, Leadership, the Environment, and Service. This youth outreach program is the brainchild of Drew and Kay Dodd of Zion Lutheran Church of Hickory, who envisioned a program whereby they could assist and inspire area youth who need an extra “boost” to cope with their life struggles. For more information about the unique EAGLES program, please see this article at: www.livinglutheran.org/2016/07/fly-like-eagle/

Drew Dodd also deserves special recognition for his direct involvement in “The Grandfather Challenge.” Not only did Mr. Dodd himself drive a school bus from Hickory to Grandfather Mountain and back five times (including a “makeup” hike for a student who had missed a hike), but he also served as one of the adult chaperones and completed each of the four rigorous hikes !! Organizers estimate that Mr. Dodd drove approximately 750 miles in order to transport these kids to and from the four hikes !

Special recognition and thanks goes out to Jacob’s Fork Middle School principal Dr. Thomas Howell, who gave support and encouragement to school counselor Melanie Sigmon to work with both The Jason Project and its “Grandfather Challenge” program, as well as the EAGLES project at Zion Lutheran Church of Hickory. Mrs. Sigmon’s energy and devotion to her students was the catalyst that gave rise to the formation of this group of nine kids that recently completed “The Grandfather Challenge.”

In addition to Drew Dodd, Jacob’s Fork Middle School School teacher Drew Blanton also served admirably as a chaperone. His leadership and encouragement of the students as they completed these challenging hikes was invaluable, and helped make this program a success for these kids.

These hikes were conducted and supervised by Seth Barker and Madeleine Mudd 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 nine students quickly bonded with these fine young people, and learned valuable lessons of servant-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 a special awards dinner and ceremony at the Zion Lutheran Church in Hickory.

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 [email protected], or visit their Go Fund Me page at GoFundMe.com/TheJasonProject.

 

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