SOARing Through the Decades: 1990s

by Andrea Wackerle

by: Anna LoPinto

“We could have never loved the earth so well if we had had no childhood in it.”

– Mary Ann Evans


The 90s were a time of expansive growth for SOAR. Programs were offered throughout the country, as well as internationally. Summer programs saw record numbers and reached capacity.

90s Program Locations: Alaska, Appalachian Trail, Arizona, Belize, Colorado, Costa Rica, Florida, Florida Keys, Idaho, Jamaica, New Mexico, North Carolina, Utah, Wyoming


Internet became more widely accessible, and SOAR’s first website was created in 1998. Our current Executive Director, John Willson, joined the SOAR team in 1991, returned in 1992 as a Course Director, and fall of 1993 to launch the Appalachain Trail Semester course program. He has been with the organization ever since! In 1999 SOAR year-round staff jumped from 13 employees to 21. In the 80s SOAR was on the trajectory to be the forefront of outdoor programs for ADHD/LD populations, by the 90s it was.

Major Moments

  • A huge expansion of national and international programs (see above)
  • Consistently fill courses to capacity
  • Rapid growth completed 9 shelters at Balsam Base
  • Expand services to 7th graders
  • SOAR is licensed as a summer camp (a new requirement by the state of North Carolina)
  • Expand high ropes course
  • Create activity staff positions for summer sessions
  • Complete SOAR Field Staff
  • SOAR fleet of vans increases to 5 vehicles
  • Conduct reconnaissance of Wyoming for possible SOAR Western Base (eventually leads to the creation of Eagle View Ranch!)

“Signs of the Time”

  • 1997 celebrate 20th year
  • 1998 internet site is established
  • 1998 SOAR video completed
  • 1999 complete networking of Administrative Team computers
  • 1999 SOAR is a Microsoft Word Office
  • 1999 SOAR brochure printed in color
  • 1999-2000 move into Y2K with no significant glitches

To celebrate this decade, we wanted to share captions of a few 90s photos from two of the leaders that lived it, SOAR’s Jonathan Jones and John Willson:

“The llama trek pic was taken in 1990 during the first summer of SOAR’s Llama Trek program. The young man’s first name is Danny and at the time he lived in Franklin, NC. This is, perhaps, the first-ever SOAR LT photo and one of many hundreds that have one thing in common – the students always have their arm touching the llama’s neck or placed fully around the neck. His mother (Susan) taught me how important it is to use an individual’s natural organization style/ideas to personalize organization strategies.” (Jonathan Jones)


“This is from the original Appalachian Trail Semester course I staffed back in 1993. This program was the first fall Academic Semester that followed the Original Spring Semesters the previous 2 years. The boy with the backpack was named Nathan.” (John Willson)


“This was taken in 1993 during the first Appalachian Trail semester course program”. (John Willson, pictured)


“One of SOAR’s early Outdoor Classroom groups. (a school from Augusta), GA) receiving their safety briefing before rafting the French Broad River. The water was running high on this particular spring day. The looks on some of their faces reflect the seriousness of the rafting to come.” (Jonathan Jones)


“SOAR had a Challenge Course element that included – gaining a platform, swinging to a cargo net, and climbing up and over the 20′ net. This pic shows students embracing the challenge of that element.” (Jonathan Jones)


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 – a new century – the 2000s!