A Note from Big John

by Andrea Wackerle

It was a summer like no other. On June 5th the sounds of children playing, laughing, and learning finally graced our mountain after a break that lasted much too long.  We enjoyed the return of so many alumni staff and campers, along with the opportunity to introduce a whole new group of dynamic young people to the rich experiences that SOAR offers.  Now, as the summer has come to a close we will have to wait 9 months to fully function in the capacity for which it was designed: to bring joy and growth opportunities to the remarkable campers we serve.

As I look back on this summer, there are several accomplishments that stand out to me:

  • Campers returned with a mix of wondrous anticipation and cautious trepidation. The transition back to having in-person experiences was desperately needed. 
  • The new dining hall and kitchen were a wonderful addition to the facility in Balsam.
  • The Wyoming program had its largest enrollment since we opened the facility!
  • We had several former students invested in returning as staff to give back to the program that had meant so much to them.  The sense of commitment and pride these staff had in being able to enrich the lives of campers was profound.

I had the honor of working with our Postgraduate Adventure program as a course instructor this summer. “The Clever Animals” (our team name) were a delightful group that reminded me why our future is in such good hands.  The level of caring and understanding these participants gave to one another was such an inspiration.  

I want to thank all of the staff that worked so hard this summer to provide unique and special experiences for our campers. This summer our locations included Florida, North Carolina, Costa Rica, and Wyoming. We backpacked, canoed, caved, climbed, fished, rafted, rappelled, SCUBA dived, sea kayaked, snorkeled, and spent a fair amount of time with horses! Goals were met, friends were made, and we all learned just a little bit more about ourselves.

As we launch into autumn, both the Academy and GAP programs are full and providing a rich set of experiences to help nurture the growth of their participants.  We look forward to returning to the Florida Keys on December 27th for our Christmas in the Keys Adventure. Finally, we will continue to provide thoughtful webinars on a monthly basis. We hope to provide information we believe you will find helpful. I encourage all of you to look for things to celebrate, learn from the things that challenge us, and find new adventures that nurture your soul and reinvigorate the spirit.


-Big John