The staff at SOAR are selected for those qualities of maturity, sensitivity and caring which enable them to relate well to young people and enhance the adventure program. All are highly trained professionals in such fields as special and secondary education, recreation therapy, counseling, outdoor and experiential education.
John Willson, M.S., LRT/CTRS
John received his undergraduate degree in Sociology from Texas State University in 1990. Upon completion, he spent a year in Boulder at the University of Colorado studying Experiential Education and Outdoor Leadership. He then moved to Chicago, Illinois and completed his Masters
of Science in Outdoor Therapeutic Recreation Administration at The George Williams College of Aurora University in 1993. As a student, John spent time working with youth in a variety of settings; Ropes courses, group homes, summer camps and treatment facilities.
John has spent 20 years working in youth programs with an emphasis on youth diagnosed with LD and AD/HD. He joined SOAR as a summer wilderness instructor in 1991. After completing his Masters degree he returned as a semester course instructor on the Appalachian Trail in 1993. John became SOAR's Director of LD and AD/HD Services in 1994. He has lead hundreds of adventure courses in North Carolina, Florida, Alaska, Utah, Wyoming, Maine, Costa Rica, and Belize. His primary responsibilities include supervision of SOAR's LD and AD/HD programs, management of SOAR's Balsam Base, training and developing staff, and increasing public awareness of SOAR's mission. Each year he still steps into his favorite role as a field instructor on a variey of programs.
In addition to his responsibilities at SOAR, John is currently the President of the Learning Disabilities Association (LDA) of North Carolina. He has been an active member of CH.A.D.D., serving as co-coordinator of the Western North Carolina chapter. He actively presents to teachers,parents and professionals at local, state and national conferences. In addition, he has been an adjunct professor at Western Carolina University and Mars Hill College teaching Outdoor Recreation, Therapuetic Recreation, and Leadership courses. His certifications include Wilderness First Responder, Lifeguard Instructor, CPR Instructor, PADI Rescue Diver, State licensed Recreation Therapist, and Nationally Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist. Finally, and most importantly, he and his wife Dorothie are the proud parents of two magnificent, creative, and strong willed children.
Director of Operations
Laura Pate joined SOAR in the summer of 1998. Laura has a Masters degree in Education from Southern Illinois University and a Bachelors degree in Outdoor Recreation from Appalachian State University. Laura also obtained a Business Management degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Laura has been a certified National Standard Course Instructor for the Wilderness Education Association and is a certified Wilderness First Responder and Lifeguard.
Since the late 1980's, Laura and her husband Joe have worked for a variety of nationally recognized programs and spent a great deal of time traveling and pursuing outdoor interests such as: rock climbing, caving, mountain biking, and skiing. They have two children, named Cassidy and Dylan, who also love outdoor adventures.
As Director of North Carolina Programs, Laura hires, trains, and supervises SOAR's Instructor staff. In addition, Laura oversees the development of summer courses in North Carolina as well as SOAR’s risk management and accreditation programs. She and her family raise alpacas and enjoy seeing live music of all types.
Catey was born just south of Nashville, TN. Her love of and passion for nature translated into a Bachelor’s Degree in Environmental Biology from Appalachian State University in Boone, NC. She enjoys a variety of outdoor activities, including backpacking, rock climbing, canoeing, and whitewater rafting. She has worked for Great Smoky Mountain National Park as an SCA Fisheries Intern, and as an Administrative Specialist for REI. Her greatest accomplishment to date is backpacking a 400-mile section of the Appalachian Trail, along with her husband Jon and their two dogs Dakota and Bella. Together, Catey and Jon, enjoy music, traveling and outdoor adventures. Her certifications include CPR, Wilderness First Aid and PADI Open Water Diver.
Catey began working for SOAR in 2005 as a Wilderness Field Staff. That fall, she joined SOAR’s year round team and served as the Office Manager and Finance Assistant. Now the Director of the Administrative Team, Catey oversees and provides support to the team members, while striving to uphold our commitment to service. She also works as a member of the Marketing Team, developing SOAR’s brochures and advertisements, and assisting with the website. As part of the SOAR family, Catey is passionate about SOAR’s programs, and is excited about SOAR’s future.
Director of Eagle View Ranch
Jeremy has held numerous positions in the field of youth services. He has worked as a recreation programmer and after school coordinator for inner city children in Louisville, Kentucky. He spent some time in Canada working at an adventure-learning center. For two consecutive years, Jeremy traveled to South Africa to run camp programs for inner city youth in Cape Town. He worked at an environmental learning program in Northern California and spent two summers leading youth adventure trips in Alaska.
After spending 145 days hiking the Appalachian Trail, Jeremy came to the decision that he would like to invest himself more fully and spend a longer period of time with the children in his care. That decision led Jeremy to Eagle View Ranch in the fall of 2005, to run the first of many semester groups for SOAR. Jeremy and Eagle View Ranch were a perfect match for each other and he has remained in Dubois ever since.
Jeremy is as compassionate for SOAR students as he is knowledgeable of the outdoors. They are two of the primary passions in his life and he is grateful for the chance to combine them each day. Jeremy has the marvelous ability to see only the best in people and gently guide others to see the same in themselves. He loves the balance of his job responsibilities. During the school year, he oversees the semester groups in the west and during the summer he lives and breathes the successes at Eagle View Ranch.
Director of The Academy at SOAR
Joe began to develop his love for working in the outdoors in 1989, while serving with the U.S. Army Rangers special operations. After his military service he attended Indiana University of Pennsylvania in a Bachelors of Science programs for anthropology and history education. Here he found and developed a desire and talent for working with children through coaching sports. In 1998, he entered the wilderness therapy industry as a Wilderness Instructor in Pennsylvania, leading groups of students on expeditions designed to teach and develop self-esteem, strong values and social skills. Over the years Joseph has been privileged to help build stronger youth through facilitating climbing trips in West Virginia, backpacking trips on the Appalachian Trail, canoeing the Everglades and Suwannee River, and climbing in the Wind River Range of Wyoming.
In 2005, Joe became the Director of Operations for outdoor programming at Phoenix Outdoor LLC. He joined SOAR in the summer of 2008 as an Activity Specialist facilitating adventure activities for NC campers. Here he found a dynamic team of people to work with that share his passion for working with children in the outdoors. In September of 2008 Joe joined the full year team as the Director of Logistics and Physical Plant, and oversees the support for all of the North Carolina based programs as well as our Outdoor Classrooms and Community Based Programming.
Joe shares his love and passion for the outdoors and children with his wife Kristina and their daughter Isabella. His personal outdoor passions lie on the tops of the mountains he pursues whenever the opportunities allow. Aside from his extensive experience in the military and in the wilderness industry, Joe has held or holds certifications as a Wilderness First Responder, Swift Water Rescuer, Whitewater Raft Guide, Small Craft Safety Instructor – Canoe and Kayak, Life Guard, Top Rope Climbing Site Manager and multiple Crisis Intervention methods.
Director of Logistics and Physical Plant
Richard Peters grew up in Greensboro, North Carolina, and found a passion for the outdoors at a very young age. He attended school at Western Carolina University where he was able to nurture his love of nature by participating in outdoor activities in the Appalachian Mountains. Richard started working for SOAR in the summer of 2007 as a field instructor in the Florida Keys Program. After discovering the amazing opportunities that SOAR provides, his passion for helping youth, and the ability to tie it all into outdoor adventure activities, he eagerly joined the year round staff at SOAR. Richard has since worked as The Director of Community Based Programming, Course Director of The Florida Keys Program and you can now find him working as The Director of Physical Plant and Logistics.
Richard enjoys spending his free time hiking, fishing, swimming, playing disc golf, reading, listening to music and fixing motorcycles. His certifications include US Coast Guard 6-Pack Captain, Red Cross Lifeguard/CPR/First Aid Instructor, Wilderness First Responder and PADI Open Water Diver.
Kylie Cyr grew up in woods of Northern Maine and has been partaking in outdoor activities since childhood. Kylie attended College at Ohio State University and Boise State University where she has worked on her Communications Degree. She is currently completing her Bachelors Degree in Communications at Western Carolina University.
Kylie has been part of the SOAR family since 1993. Kylie started the SOAR programs as a camper in the Florida Keys her freshman year of high school and also participated in our ILS program the following summer. Kylie was hired on the summers of 1996-2000 as a summer field staff and has worked an array of programs for us. After pursuing her college career, Kylie has returned to SOAR as a full time staff working with the Administrative Team.
Once a child with AD/HD, Kylie truly has an understanding of the struggles associated with AD/HD. Kylie’s true passion is to give back to the youth today and help to provide positive experiences for them through wilderness activities. “I support and believe in SOAR’s philosophy, and truly believe in the positive gifts our programs offer!”
Kylie enjoys hiking with her dog Matty, whitewater rafting, gardening and listening to music.
Registrar / Admissions Assistant
Chelsea Flynn claims roots in Chattanooga, TN with an accent of Colorado summers and adulthood spent in North Carolina, Indiana and Metro Washington DC area. With a nomadic spirit, seeker of challenge and thirst for adventure she has embraced multiple moves throughout the US and Europe as a way to see the world. Throughout many moves she sought comfort in the mountains which thankfully guided her choice in career. She graduated from Appalachian State University with a degree in Recreation Management to match her love of the outdoors. She has pursued her passion for getting people of all ages outside through many avenues of experiential and adventure education.
Chelsea joined the Administrative Team at SOAR in December 2012 and feels back at home in the North Carolina Mountains. Tackling the role of Registrar & Admissions Assistant, she joins the team with serious organizational skills, stride to maximize every opportunity, and desire to connect with SOAR’s community. She manages all paperwork & travel coordination, assists with marketing strategies, shadows as SOAR’s social media voice, and anything else to make it easier to register your students and campers. The excitement of SOAR’s mission and community has Chelsea ready to embrace the future of this wonderful organization.
Personally, Chelsea is at peace when she is out exploring new places whether in the backcountry or the middle of a city. She finds humor in high fives and tries to find a connection or connector with everyone she meets. She continues to live out her grandmother’s motto, “if you’re not dancing, you’re not living.” There are so many reasons to celebrate life and she has found hers in the camp community. Let’s all do what we can to enhance children’s lives with laughter, adventure, and confidence. Let’s get outside!
Academy at SOAR Academic Director
Growing up as a kid who stuttered, Mike was drawn towards helping kids in the same way many of his teachers and counselors had helped him. Mike received his undergraduate degree in special education at the State University of New York at Geneseo in 1991. Upon graduation, he accepted a position teaching middle school special education near Raleigh. There he met Susan. They married in 1993.
Mike set up base in Greensboro, North Carolina where he taught both elementary and middle school special education. After his 12th year in the classroom, Mike returned to school as a North Carolina Principal Fellow, to earn his Master of School Administration from The University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
During his time as an assistant principal at schools in Charlotte, North Carolina, Mike never lost his love for learning, and connecting with students and their families. He decided to learn how to speak Spanish to better connect with the Spanish-speaking students and families. This choice included a decision to spend a summer in Costa Rica in 2008, living with a family and immersing himself in Spanish language and instruction.
Throughout his 19 years in education, Mike has always been a strong believer in alternative education, based upon his opinion that too many students, despite educator’s efforts, were getting left behind, in strictly a traditional academic environment. Mike is excited to join the SOAR family in 2011. He looks forward to developing relationships, facilitating learning, and contributing to the SOAR team to help take its educational program to new heights.
Aside from work, Mike enjoys running, travelling, listening to music, eating, writing, and spending time with his wife Susan, his two girls, Abbey and Molly, and his dog Wyatt.
Academy Residential Director and Balsam Base Associate Director
Julie Dixon began working with youth during high school as a volunteer athletic coach for her local YMCA. As her passion for working with youth grew, she found other avenues to help children and adolescents grow into healthy young adults.
While attending the University of South Florida, she began working with at-risk students in elementary schools around the Tampa area and coached elementary through high school aged girls with a private volleyball club.
Julie completed her bachelor's degree in Psychology in 2006 and immediately entered the Counselor Education graduate program at the University of Central Florida. Her work with at-risk youth lead her to pursue a master's degree in School Counseling. During graduate school, Julie enjoyed researching and presenting on alternative counseling methods like expressive arts therapy, play therapy, and adventure-based counseling.
Julie’s belief in the therapeutic power of adventure activities and the desire to help youth experience growth in the outdoors lead her to SOAR. Julie came to SOAR in the summer of 2008 as a Field Staff on the North Carolina Llama Trek course. One summer just wasn't enough for her. After completing her Master's degree and Play Therapy Certificate, Julie returned to SOAR as the Llama Trek Course Director and a Base Instructor for the Academy.
Julie is now serving SOAR as the Balsam Base Associate Director and Academy Residential Director . Julie is certified in Wilderness First Aid, Lifeguarding, and CPR/AED for Lifeguards. She enjoys whitewater rafting and trail running.
Director of Development
James Jones graduated as the first LD student from the University of Houston with a B.A. in Communications. He built aircraft with SOAR students since 1979. In their first School Flight Aircraft, a rebuilt fabric wing 1947 Cessna 140, he flew from Wilmington, NC to Santa Monica, CA and back as a tribute to their work. He was Head Master of Summit Academy for almost 10 years and in cooperation with SOAR, founded the Academic Discovery Summer Program. He was an original board member of SOAR Inc.
John Willson writes, “ I met James twenty years ago when I first came to work for SOAR. He immediately took me under his wing and taught me so much about working effectively with young people. James has demonstrated understanding, compassion, and genuine warmth that made him an excellent mentor. He is intelligent, organized, sensitive, quick, confident and fun to work with. If you were to combine a heart for people, leadership skills galore, a passion for helping students learn, and an ability to always get the job done, then you have just described James Jones.
He has lived a remarkable life, from flying and building his own airplane, to diving and making a movie with Jacques Cousteau, to molding the lives of young people. He is quite simply an extraordinary man. Quite simply, he is in the top 1% of people I have worked with and I am so proud to call him my friend.”
Jonathan has been involved in education for twenty years as a classroom teacher, Upper School principal and program administrator. His diverse background includes military service, convening of international conferences and advocate work for abused and neglected children. He is an adult with learning disabilities and is blessed with a 18-year-old son with his own unique mix of LD and ADD characteristics.
Jonathan has a B.S. in Chemistry
and Psychology, Secondary Education Teaching Certificate and
has completed Master's
work in Education.
He has more than twenty years experience working with
LD and ADD youth and conveys a unique perspective regarding
strengths and abilities; bringing a practical, common
sense, low cost
approach to the most challenging LD and ADD characteristics.
His professional presentations number over five hundred and frequently presents at state, national and international conferences, which focus on LD and ADD issues. Jonathan is Past President of the Learning Disabilities Association (LDA) of North Carolina and Chairman for the Adult Literacy Committee for LDA of America.
SOAR grew out of a graduate project completed for Dr. Vincent Cyphers at the University of Northern Colorado. It reflects a personal love for the out-of-doors and a view of the wilderness as a place for personal growth and development. Jonathan has led hundreds of expeditions over the past twenty years: snorkeling and SCUBA diving in the Florida Keys, mountaineering in the Colorado Rockies, as well as, international trips to Jamaica, Belize and Costa Rica. His dream of building a Western Base Camp to better serve West Coast families came to fruition this past summer with SOAR's opening of our Eagle View Ranch in Dubois, Wyoming. He continues to plan and develop new programs for the youth and families SOAR serves.
Wandajean began working with students with learning disabilities in 1976 at the Interdisiplinary Learning Center in Houston, Texas. She would help with after school tutoring and she and her husband, Jonathan, would facilitate group activities. Once a month they would take students rock climbing, backpacking and camping. All of this was in preparation for a week long trip in the summer to Estes Park, Colorado.
Over the years it has been her privilege to be a part of SOAR's growth and development. Wandajean has taken on many roles: Trip Leader, Program Director, tutor, Office Manager, Finance Director and Board Member. Her goal is to be a part of a team which helps provide quality programs for LD and AD/HD youth and their families.
NC Base Camp (828) 456-3435
P.O. Box 388, Balsam, NC 28707
Philosophy: SOAR believes all individuals identified with learning disabilities (LD) and attention deficit disorder (AD/HD) possess inherent talents and gifts. These abilities can mean incredible success in adulthood once these students negotiate the challenging obstacles of childhood, adolescence, and a traditional education system, usually unable to respond to individual learning styles.
Therefore, the SOAR model is based on two fundamental principles. First, youth with LD and AD/HD flourish when they are encouraged to focus on their strengths in an experiential setting. The second principle acknowledges that success can be generalized by encouraging our students to develop and utilize strategies, enabling them to compensate for those challenging characteristics of LD and AD/HD. To this end, SOAR staff strive to ensure success for each student across a wide range of experiences. Such success, in turn, builds essential self-esteem and self-confidence.
Based on these two foundations, SOAR participants develop problem solving skills, effective communication strategies, increased self-awareness, and social skills. Program activities include a broad base of wilderness adventure experiences that empower students to make healthy choices, learn more about themselves, overcome challenges, and establish relevance from these experiences to other aspects of their life.
SOAR's Specialty Courses are open to SOAR alumni and students with the maturity and experience level to be successful on the course. Acceptance is conditional on the approval of the course director. Most specialty courses are led by one of SOAR's year-round staff including Richard Peters, John Willson and Joe Geier.
SOAR’s programs are designed to allow students the opportunity to increase their independence while away from home. Independence is gained through self-motivation and life skills instruction. With this in mind, we involve our students in many decision making processes, such as setting individual goals, developing group guidelines, as well as trip and meal planning. This also comes into consideration when developing SOAR’s communication policy, detailed in our Parent Handbook.
SOAR is dedicated to serving the needs of individuals with learning disabilities (LD) and attention deficit disorder (AD/HD) and is proud to be the finest: