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The Jason Project’s Hiking Programs For At-Risk Youth Seeks Alliances With Avery, Mitchell, and Yancey County Churches!

Avery, Mitchell, and Yancey Counties




            If your church congregation includes youth members from ages 14 to 17 who are suffering from mental or addiction problems or who are otherwise “at-risk” because they are facing life struggles through no fault of their own, we would invite you to explore our two free programs, the “Grandfather Challenge,” and the “Appalachian Trailblazers.”  Through these programs,  we try to instill in these young people that God loves them and will help them overcome the unique challenges in their lives.

Youth Leadership, Mentoring, & Wilderness Adventures For At-Risk Youth: 

Although he was struggling with mental illness throughout his mid-teens and young adult life, Jason Matthew Nipper found peace and serenity as he and his parents hiked the beautiful, challenging trails in the mountains of Western North Carolina.    Jason passed away in 2014, and his parents James & Cheryl Nipper formed a non-profit entity called The Jason Project, Inc., and launched “The Grandfather Challenge” program in 2015 in honor of their beloved son.  They then organized the “Appalachian Trailblazers” program in 2019.   James and Cheryl believe that this was a perfect way to fulfill Jason’s desire to help others and to create a legacy for their son and provide meaning to his life. Although The Jason Project programs serve at-risk kids suffering from mental problems and/or drug addictions, they also assist middle and high school youth who are struggling with personal adversities, including family, school, or other personal problems or challenges beyond their control.   They hope that Jason’s intense love of nature and hiking, coupled with his desire to help others, will live on through the young persons who participate in this very unique wilderness hiking, adventure, leadership, and mentoring programs.  At no cost to the participants, The Jason Project provides professional hike leaders, backpacks, hiking boots, raincoats, and all other costs associated with these programs, except for transportation to and from the hike trailheads. At the end of these outdoor adventure programs, the student’s accomplishments are recognized at a special Awards Dinner, at which each participant is given a special Certificate Of Completion and other recognition.

The Jason Project's hiking programs for at-risk youth

The “Flagship” Program — The “Grandfather Challenge” 

The “flagship” program of The Jason Project is “The Grandfather Challenge,” consisting of four major weekly hikes along the rigorous trails of Grandfather Mountain in Linville, NC. The underlying goal of “The Grandfather Challenge” program is to use the adventure of mountain hiking and climbing, coupled with the leadership skills of experienced mentors and hike leaders, to teach at-risk kids that through perseverance and commitment, they can overcome their unique challenges in life. Now in its sixth year,  this program is serving middle and high school students in Avery, Caldwell,  Catawba, Gaston, and Lincoln counties, and we now wish to expand into Mitchell and Yancey counties this upcoming summer.  During these challenging hikes, our hike leaders give each student a leadership “role” to play during each hike, and provide opportunities for discussions centered around leadership, teamwork, and overcoming personal challenges.

The “Appalachian Trailblazers” 

                The “Appalachian Trailblazers” program centers around a  two-day, 15-mile hike along the Appalachian Trail, and was recently created as a supplement to “The Grandfather Challenge.”   This wilderness adventure focuses on teaching at-risk youth to gain more self-confidence and become more successful by learning the values and methods of personal goal-setting and learning to become leaders in their churches and schools.   This program centers around casual discussions about personal goal-setting and developing the leadership potential of each student. Leadership roles are assigned, and the values of teamwork are taught and demonstrated. Students are taught that there are good people in life who set helpful “blazes” or “markers” for us to follow to reach stated goals and get to where we want to be, and that they too can return to their churches and schools and be leaders or “trailblazers” within their own communities.

Impact On At-risk Students: 

Testimonies received from students, teachers, and counselors validate the effectiveness of these exciting programs. A 15-year-old student who suffers from autism and struggles in life told his counselor at the end of the first hike:

                “It was the best day of my life !”

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

                “I have never thought of myself as a leader. I don’t want to ever forget this feeling.”

A high school student that attends a special class for Exceptional Children told the Nippers a year after he completed the program:

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

The above statements are real, and reflect the impact that this program has on at-risk kids, who need encouragement, leadership, improved self-esteem and confidence, and recognition from adults who truly care about them and their futures. Such is the essence of The Jason Project and “The Grandfather Challenge.”

Seeking Summer Participation Of Local Area Churches: 

Because of the success and popularity of our programs, we have more middle and high schools asking to participate in our programs than we can now accommodate.   However, we have a lull in our activities during the summer months when the students are out of school.   Beginning this coming summer, we hope to align with several churches from Avery, Mitchell, and Yancey counties and serve their young, at-risk teenage church members by offering these two exciting wilderness/mentoring/leadership programs.  Once again, there are no costs to the student hikers or churches, except for transportation to and from the trailheads.

Online Articles and Contact Information: 

For additional information on these two programs, please go to the article links shown below.    To contact us directly, please call  James or Cheryl Nipper at (828) 765-6561 or (904) 354-7378, or email us at,  and we would be happy to send your more details.


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