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Star Sleepers: GAP Year Expedition 4



January 30th, 2018. It’s my first day back from one of the most exciting expeditions that I’ve been on yet. My name is Gianluca, a participant of the SOAR Gap Year Program, and someone who is very interested in the outdoors and cannot help but listen to Lady Gaga while writing this. Everything about the outdoors amazes me, from the simplest things, like the smell you get when you walk through a pine forest, or the feeling of the sand from Zion National Park between you and your sleeping bag. I feel like the name “Star Sleepers” is a perfect name for this year’s Gap Year group, because at every opportunity that we get, we make the conscious decision to sleep under the stars. Nothing compares to seeing Orion’s Belt and the rest of the galaxy in the middle of a national park with only your teammates around you and it has an unbelievable effect. I love the idea of how small we really are in the universe. It really puts who I am as a person in perspective. Did you know that we have a very small percentage of star dust inside of us? It’s pretty cool if you think about it because we are made up of the same thing as everything else around us. We just came back from our 4th expedition totaling 13 days. If you think that planning a 2 week trip is easy, then you are wrong. It takes an incredible amount of dedication, time, energy and protein.


For our 4th expedition, we went to Arizona and visited plenty of beautiful places on the way including Utah, Nevada and the Colorado River. Our expedition started off with the long car rides to get to Salt Lake City where we spent the first few nights in BLM land (Bureau of Land Management) and we woke up to absolutely breathtaking (and below freezing) views. Next, we made the long trek to the border of Nevada and Arizona, specifically to the Hoover Dam, to begin our four day canoeing trip down the Colorado River in the Black Canyon. Not only was this one of the most beautiful things that I have been able to experience, but it was also a huge learning experience for me. I learned about so many different species of birds, different types of rocks, and about the Hoover Dam, how it was made, and how people lived back when it was first made. We canoed about 16 miles to Willow Beach. Along the way, we saw so many different hot springs, different types of wildlife, we even got to meet a new friend Roy, the rubber duck! : ) We brought him into caves and went on beautiful day hikes through canyons and beaches and to say we all, including Roy, had fun and learned a lot is an understatement.


After the 4 day excursion through the Black Canyon, we started heading towards Arizona. Along the way we saw many beautiful campgrounds, lakes, deserts, vegetation, and again, the wildlife. I have never seen so many cacti in my life! Once we were in Arizona, we headed towards Tucson to visit The University of Arizona, where the renowned SALT Program is located. Its a program that is dedicated specifically to people with Learning Disabilities. They provide so many amazing tools to help their student like free tutoring and essay assistance (they actually help you write them and they work with you to improve on your writing). We got a tour of the beautiful university. It is gigantic and has so many different types of people in the 43,000 student population. The people on the campus are friendly and helpful, and we even got to meet a previous Gap Year participant, Collin. A big thanks to Collin for giving us some well needed advice and some insight into how we can change and grow as individuals. After some yummy pizza and a spa day for Big Booty Judy, our well named 15 passenger van, we headed to Phoenix where we had an incredible tour of the ABC15 studio thanks to a friend of one of the participants, Koh. We got to see where they film the broadcast, and meet Stephanie, one of the News Anchors, who was super friendly and even had a past working with children with learning disabilities. And finally, to end that amazing night, we treated ourselves to amazing Mexican food at a place called “Rosita’s Place” which filled our bellies up with the yummiest (Mexican) food that I have ever had. That evening we slept in Phoenix and were able to feel the heat. When we were in Tucson, we had this amazing rock climbing experience at Barnum Rock. Personally, I am afraid of heights, so climbing was a challenge, but overcoming it felt amazing.


Once we finished in Phoenix, our journey back to good ol’ Dubois began. Going from the heat to the cold is not a fun experience, but it was still amazing (especially the views) and the campgrounds. Camping in tents is something that I think everyone should try because it is really fun and has a different feeling than a bed, and personally I sleep much better with the fresh air! But overall, the journey back home gave us some time to reflect on what we learned through this expedition. We had time to think about the hard work we had to put in and think about how we can use the experiences on expeditions in our lives at home. Some things that I learned from this expedition is to expect the unexpected. Even though we went to the desert, it was very cold and at times it even rained, which goes to show that you need to prepare for the worst, whether that’s very hot or very cold.

Our first week back on base has been an exciting one! We have a new participant, Derek, who has been able to make the transition to the Gap Year very smoothly, and has been the most helpful person I know. We are also going to be welcoming a new participant Sarah this weekend, which is another super exciting addition to the group!

There have been so many things happening around the Eagle View Ranch and I’m really excited to see what will happen in the next few weeks. For example, we will be going to Belize at the end of February and we are all very excited! We are back to volunteering on base and class starts next week! I recently started volunteering at the Boys and Girls Club and I am so excited to be working with children. I simply adore children and I think that they have a lot to learn from me and Koh (my volunteer buddy). There are so many more opportunities and experiences that are waiting to happen here at SOAR, and I cannot wait to share these experiences, along with other members here at the Gap Year, and hope that you found a little bit of interest while reading this, but yeah thanks for reading, until next time! Happy adventuring amici miei!



Big Things from 2016

Some big things happened at SOAR in 2016! We celebrated our 40th summer season, saw our highest enrollment (ever!), developed new scholarship opportunities, and began planning projects we’re excited to share with you in 2017! It is clear that the life changing experiences offered at SOAR are having a huge impact on the lives of youth and their families. We are so grateful to all of our campers, students, and gappers that motivate us each day. We are also grateful for their families who let us share their amazing children. And of course, we can’t forget the generous people who support SOAR on an ongoing basis. Your support keeps our mission alive!

Here are just a few highlights from this year. We can’t wait to see what adventures 2017 has in store!

  1. We Celebrated 40 Summers

    40th Anniversary Celebration

    Back in the summer of 1977, Jonathan and Wandajean Jones embarked on their first adventure with SOAR in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. With just a few kids on the course, it was the start of something much bigger. 40 years later, we celebrated with former campers, students, staff, and friends who have all been a part of SOAR’s growth over the years. In 2016, we also served more kids at camp than ever before! This was the best celebration of all. Here’s to 40 more!

  2. Launched 2 New Summer Courses

    Magens Bay, St. Thomas

    We are always looking for new adventures that we know our campers will enjoy. This year we launched two new courses–Caribbean Sailing/SCUBA Adventure & California Surfing Adventure! Both were a huge success and allowed campers to experience things they have never before. Both courses will carry over into the 2017 season and are great options for SOAR alumni looking to try something new and exciting!

  3. Expanded our Gap Year Program at Eagle View Ranch

    New Cabins in Wyoming

    In it’s 3rd year, the Gap Year at SOAR continues to grow. This year, with the help of generous donors, SOAR was able to secure the property adjacent to Eagle View Ranch in Wyoming. This purchase provides us with additional living space, allowing us to expand our Gap Year program in the future to accommodate more participants.

  4. Developed the Military Scholarship Fund


    SOAR has a rich military history and has always looked for ways to support military families. This year we made it official and launched the Military Scholarship Fund. This fund provides scholarship assistance to campers and students with immediate family who have served or are serving in the military. Our goal is to substantially grow this fund in 2017!

  5. Installed Fiber Optic Internet

    Students in Classroom

    If you have ever been to SOAR’s Balsam Base, it is tucked away on a mountainside. While the views are beautiful, the internet connection was not. With the help of generous donors, SOAR was able to upgrade to Fiber Optic Internet this past year. This not only makes the work of our administrative staff much easier (and faster), it drastically improves the learning environment for our students! Students are now able to work on assignments with less interruptions resulting in more progress throughout the school day!

Thank you for being a part of the work we’re doing here at SOAR. See you in 2017!


Dr. Joan Teach Awarded Educator of the Year

We are so pleased to congratulate one of our SOAR Board Members, Dr. Joan Teach on her recent award as 2015 CHADD Educator of the Year at the annual CHADD conference in New Orleans on November 14, 2015. Joan Teach has been a long-time supporter of SOAR’s programs.  She has facilitated many trips to the Balsam Base for the Middle School Students from Lullwater School and has been able to experience the positive attitude shown toward the campers, the understanding of their needs both strong and fragile, and the quality staff that brings out the best in all of them.  

Dr. Teach has been a special educator working with the LD/ADHD population since 1960 and served as the Principal/Director of the Lullwater School until her retirement in 2005. After retiring Joan has been active as the President of LDA Georgia, President of the Board for Kids Enabled, Director of the Community Resource Center in Atlanta and started a collaborative group, GOLD, Georgia Opportunities for Learning Differences. She designs and presents workshops for parents, adults with LD/ADHD and females with ADHD in Atlanta as well as speaks at conferences such as LDA and CHADD. She serves on the Board of SOAR, an environmental outdoor program combining positive approach to esteem building and character development.  Joan also has a passion for the LDA Healthy Children’s Project volunteering her efforts to reduce the incidence of learning disabilities in future populations.  She also travels around the world educating individuals in other countries about the struggles of females and others with LD/ADHD through game simulation.  Congratulations Joan Teach!

After receiving this award, Dr. Teach shared these encouraging words.

Thank you. I’m one of those 15 million with ADHD  – And you expect me to say thank you and sit down? I bring instead a challenge for CHADD. On January 28, 1986 Christa Maculliffe took off in the Challenger as the first teacher in space. We know the story, but Christa left us with a legacy: To Teach is to Touch a Life Forever

This has become my mantra, and that of many educators that I have known. But our society has changed. Today’s opinion of teachers is negative, demoralizing and demeaning. It is time we raise the self-esteem of those who teach our children and point instead to what a teacher can really do. I want these young educators to go to cocktail parties where everyone is sharing their so important positions, I’m a lawyer, accountant, anesthesiologist, etc. They need to respond I AM AN EDUCATOR, stated with confidence and with their head held high.

Therefore, my Challenge –  I believe CHADD can begin a groundswell that reaches across the nation and informs society of all the things teachers are doing right. We need to combat the bad press. Atlanta Public Schools certainly have had their fair share.

If we could just start a movement to:


Think of the impact it would have. Like when a SMILE given genuinely to another, makes that person smile back and then they pass it onto the next person they meet, and on it goes.  This phenomena is so impressive. So could AFFIRMING A TEACHER’S GOOD WORK.

If we spread good feeling, raise self esteem, we then encourage that teacher to try harder to make an even bigger impact. It’s a human nature at its best. Teachers never went into the profession for the BIG BUCKS, but the BIG REWARDS they feel WHEN A CHILD SUCCEEDS.

Let’s make a difference that can spread from town to town with a life of its own. Think of the impact positive affirmation would have on our society’s opinion of teachers.

Help us all learn that:

  • When a child acts out, we must find patience
  • When a child is withdrawn and retreats, question his security
  • When a child retreats into his own world, give him a road on which to return
  • When academics become a quandary, provide the route around that brick wall
  • When a child accomplishes the first, a new way, succeeds in any form, thank a teacher
  • And when the day is done, and your precious someone is sound asleep, cherish the time you have put into helping him to grow and to learn, for your name is PARENT and your child is blessed to have you in his life.

I thank all of you for what you have accomplished. Please take this challenge and see what we can do to provide our world with a brighter future.