The “The Grandfather Challenge” hiking program for at-risk youth opens the 2021 season

The healing power and majesty of Grandfather Mountain cannot be denied by those of us who have known its beauty, wonder and adventure. Although he struggled with mental illness throughout his teenage years and young adulthood, Jason Matthew Nipper found peace and serenity as he and his parents hiked the challenging trails of this magnificent mountain called Grand. -father.

Jason passed away in 2014, and his parents James and Cheryl Nipper are excited to announce the opening of the 2021 season of their unique and challenging hiking program for at-risk youth that takes place at Grandfather Mountain. This program was created in honor of Jason and focuses on teenage students who suffer from mental health disorders and / or addictions, and is also for children struggling with other personal issues for reasons beyond their control. will, including cases of parental abuse or neglect, foster care, and similar obstacles and challenges in their lives. After being unable to host this program for nearly two years due to covid restrictions, Jason’s parents are excited to be able to resume their program this fall.

Jason’s story

Jason was a happy, outgoing and gifted young boy with a keen sense of humor and an endearing personality. He loved music, the Nintendo 64, the Play Station, reading, hiking and all aspects of nature. His favorite times growing up were spending with his family in their cabin in the mountains of North Carolina. Jason’s life changed when he reached his mid-teens when he began to develop symptoms of mental illness, including depression and anxiety. Despite many challenges, he still managed to earn an International Baccalaureate (IB) in high school and received a full four-year scholarship to his favorite school, the University of Florida. But, Jason continued to struggle with everyday life and valiantly tried to cope with his mental illness.

Through it all, he discovered that the days he spent hiking in the mountains brought him the greatest peace and satisfaction. And, even though he struggled, Jason always tried to help his friends when they had problems in their lives. Like so many others with severe mental illness, Jason self-treated with substances, which ultimately only made his mental state more difficult. Jason passed away at the age of 26 in June 2014. He is dearly missed by his family and everyone who knew him. Because Jason loved hiking so much and loved helping others, he would be very proud of the kids who complete the “Grandpa’s Challenge!” “

Creation of the foundation and mission statement

More than anything else, Jason wanted his life to have “sense.” His parents James and Cheryl Nipper, hoping to fulfill this desire and honor the memory of their son, formed a non-profit company called The Jason Project, Inc., which called itself an exempt charitable foundation. tax under IRS Regulation 501 (C) (3). They hope that Jason’s intense love for nature and hiking, paired with his desire to help others, will continue through the young people who participate in this program. Their greatest desire is that at-risk youth participants, including youth with mental illness and / or addiction, learn meaningful life lessons through this program and find it easier to overcome some of the difficult obstacles of life.

Due to Jason’s unwavering love for the outdoors and mountain hiking, one of the Foundation’s goals is to organize outdoor type excursions, intercept wilderness excursions and similar programs designed to build self-confidence in troubled youth, as well as confidence and a positive attitude. relationship with adult mentors.

As part of their “spread” efforts, James and Cheryl have set up a special program called “The Grandfather Challenge,” through which at-risk youth trek the rigorous and challenging hiking trails of Grandfather Mountain in Linville, England. North Carolina. One of these hikes takes you to the highest point of the Blue Ridge Mountain range and offers incredible views along the ridge of Grandfather Mountain. As these hikes take place, the adult leaders teach these young people to respect this very pristine and special nature reserve and to recognize and appreciate the beauty and creation of God.

Each hike is led by at least two skilled and experienced adult hikers, and each child is mentored, encouraged and supported by caring adult leaders who strive to instill self-confidence, trust, respect and a strong commitment to complete a rigorous and stimulating journey. physical goal. The Foundation provides hiking boots, socks, backpacks and raincoats for each student hiker.

At the end of the four rounds of hikes, students’ achievements are recognized at a special awards dinner, where each participant receives a special certificate of completion and other awards.

Jason’s parents firmly believe that this program not only provides an exciting adventure in the great outdoors for those who participate in it, but also builds confidence and self-esteem in themselves and confidence in others, similar to the ideals pursued. in various “outside” programs. Their foundation’s mission statement is “to provide healthy and rigorous outdoor excursions and challenges where at-risk youth can be encouraged and inspired to overcome their challenges and to excel mentally, spiritually and in life.”

Impact on at-risk students

The testimonies received from students, teachers and counselors validate the effectiveness of this exciting program. A 15-year-old student who suffers from autism and is struggling in life told his counselor at the end of the first hike:

“It was the happiest day of my life!”

A teenage girl who suffers from anxiety, depression and low self-esteem told her counselor:

“I never saw myself as a leader. I never want to forget that feeling.

A high school student who attends a special class for exceptional kids told the Nippers a year after completing the program:

“I’m not as angry as I used to be. I am a better person.

The above statements are real and reflect the impact of this program on at-risk children, who need encouragement, leadership, improved self-esteem and confidence, and empowerment. recognition of adults who genuinely care about them and their future. This is the essence of the Jason Project and the “Grandfather Challenge”.

Community support and alliances

James and Cheryl Nipper have received broad community support for their program. The Grandfather Mountain State Park in North Carolina has supported this program and issued a special activity permit authorizing group hikes, and local charities such as the High Country Charitable Foundation, the AMY Wellness Foundation and the Grandfather Community Foundation. , as well as many private donors, have provided generous support and encouragement.

Avery County Schools Superintendent Dr. Dan Brigman warmly endorsed the program, and staff and administration at various Avery County schools have helped make the program a success. Jason’s parents are deeply grateful for the community support they have received for this exciting program! Now in its sixth season, this program now serves students in Avery, Caldwell, Catawba, Lincoln and Gaston counties, and with support from the AMY Wellness Foundation, the Nippers hope to expand to Mitchell and Yancey counties. next year.

Professional hiking leaders

Jason’s parents are very enthusiastic and appreciate the group of diverse, experienced and energetic people from diverse backgrounds who have joined their team to serve as mentors and hiking leaders. These hiking leaders offer leadership lessons, role models and wilderness adventures, with the goal of instilling more confidence and self-esteem in these at-risk students. These men and women rallied to their cause, committed to the goals of this program, and gave them the courage to continue their efforts. The Jason Project, Inc. is very grateful to these men and women who are committed to using their leadership, compassion and technical skills to provide these children with a stimulating, meaningful and exciting experience they will never forget.

Highlights of the hiking diet

“The Grandfather Challenge” features four major hikes that are undertaken in a series of four weeks, with each successive hike becoming more difficult and challenging. These Grandfather Mountain State Park hiking trails offer some of the most rigorous and challenging hiking trails in the Southeast and include areas classified as moderate or strenuous. Some areas feature ropes and ladders and offer some of the most phenomenal views in the High Country. The fourth and final hike in the series is called the ‘Grand Daddy’ hike in which students cross the mountain ridge to MacRae and Calloway Peaks, then descend on the east side to Blue Ridge Parkway, a hike rigorous that passes through three different counties (Avery, Caldwell, and Watauga), and takes a full day of vigorous hiking and mountain climbing.

Reflection and perspective

For James and Cheryl Nipper, The Jason Project has been a bittersweet journey, but they now claim that “the sweet trumps the bitter.” They take comfort in the fact that their son Jason would love this adventure created for children at risk and would be deeply proud of these children who succeed in taking up and completing “The Grandfather’s Challenge”.

Contact details and program references

The Jason Project, Inc. is a tax-exempt, IRS 501 (c) (3) not-for-profit foundation. For more information or to submit a young candidate for participation, please contact James or Cheryl Nipper by email at [email protected] or dial 828-765-6561 or 904-221-6483. If you would like to donate to this project, please visit

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