SOARing Through the Decades: 1980s

by Andrea Wackerle

by: Anna LoPinto

“Teaching children about the natural world should be treated as one of the most important events in their lives.” 

– Thomas Berry

SOAR Backpackers

The 80s were marked by massive advancements in technology, and media. Though this changing environment was exciting, it also signaled a growing distance from the natural world. SOAR provided a space for youth and young adults with ADHD/LD (and their families) to find solace. If the 70s was SOAR’s infancy, the 80s was its adolescence. It was a time of tremendous growth and “firsts” for SOAR.

Here are a few of the exciting “firsts” we achieved in the 1980s:

  • First winter expeditions in Rockies of Colorado
  • First Ropes Course in Houston, TX
  • First courses in Smoky Mountains of North Carolina
  • First weekend courses in North Carolina
  • First annual “SOAR Eagle Run” fundraiser
  • First Christmas Keys Adventure
  • First Ropes Course in Balsam, NC
  • First offering of Academic Challenge Program
  • First offering of Family Adventure Program
  • First offering of Spring Tortugas Course
  • First Fall Semester Course on Appalachian Trail

SOAR Participant


In addition to these firsts, SOAR also established the Outdoor Learning Center in Balsam, NC. The headquarters of our SOAR programs to this day! 

A clear vision, community support, and a hardworking team helped set SOAR on the trajectory to be the leaders in outdoor education and recreation for youth with ADHD/LD. As our programs grew, so did our aspiration to reach and provide services to more people, and this mission only gained momentum in the next decades.

The story behind the photo, from founder Jonathan Jones: “This photo was taken in 1984. A SOAR team had just summited Longs Peak in RMNP and was returning via the Narrows. The day started around 0330 and included many hours of hiking and snow work (see ice axes) before reaching the Longs Peak summit at 14,255 ft). Thus, the weary looks on many faces – even as I implored them to “smile for the camera.” Wendy Lovinggood is pictured in the forefront and is one of the few students to participate in both NC and CO courses in 1984. We had 4 NC courses that year and 1 CO course. Chuck is in the “sweep” position and was my co-staff with this team.”


Would you like to be an integral part of our mission? Please consider donating $45 for our 45 years of stewardship. As a 501©(3) nonprofit, your donations will be used for our Scholarship Endowment Fund. We envision a day when any child with learning or attention challenges will have an opportunity to experience SOAR’s life-changing adventures. We thank you for your continued support and interest in SOAR.

Next month, the 90s!

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