Learn More Apply to Camp Apply to Academy Apply to Gap Year
(828) 456-3435
Learn More Apply to Camp Apply to Academy Apply to Gap Year


Reflections on Base Maintenance

Catey PaintingIn late April, the SOAR Team at the Balsam Base in North Carolina had our annual Base Maintenance Day. Our Executive Director, as well as other leaders of the SOAR program, work from this location, and participate fully in maintaining and keeping our site beautiful. The natural resources are there: mature trees, mountainside declines and inclines, waterfalls, rock formations, creeks, indigenous plants galore, including of course the wildflowers. Our structures, planned settings such as fire pits with benches, dining shelter, high and low rope courses, outposts for our campers’ time here, and paths, all enhance our SOAR setting in western NC. Our shared caring for our special property is an underlying piece and base of our philosophy here at SOAR: operating as a team, cooperating in respectful ways, focusing on strengths, building confidence and self-esteem, perseverance, and meeting challenges. The team camaraderie is strong with encouraging remarks and affirmations as the work progresses, and, at the end of the day, everyone leaves feeling proud of themselves and our work at SOAR.

This year was my first time being a part of the Spring Maintenance Day and, while I knew that one of my team members would be chopping wood to clear trees that had been cut for safety reasons, and to stock our campfire woodpiles, I was curious about my assignment. It turned out to be perfect for me, and addressed one of my strengths of having a green thumb and a passion for gardening. Our Logistics Director had thoughtfully purchased healthy, ready to plant, flowers and vegetables for me and pointed out the places I could garden. Not only was I part of the team, but did something I am pretty good at doing. I felt enormously satisfied with myself. So you could say my self-esteem and confidence was bolstered that day!
One of our team has a particular interest in the aesthetics and character of our SOAR sites. She has the ability to complete projects that add to our setting’s ambiance of outdoor adventure. She contributed by making and applying some stencil work additions to our structures. Now we have an eagle on our landing for the high ropes course as well as a poignant quote by John Muir that reflects our sentiment about our location on our rock climbing wall. Her work was tedious and took plenty of perseverance to finish, but added to the team’s feelings of pride and satisfaction.
There were many more assignments and work projects going on all day. Some members of our team were going from one job to another, and in some cases, making sure all supplies and equipment were available for all projects. They were often making encouraging comments, observations, providing advice, and yes, moving us forward, or motivating us to work even harder.
It occurred to me at the end of the day, as I was leaving feeling tired and happy that all of our being at SOAR is made up of much of the same philosophy we pass on to our campers. We provide structured days of activity with plenty of fun and adventure, focus on strengths, talents, and interest, keep a team-based approach with a purpose of inclusion of all, and hold each other accountable and valued. Our goal here at SOAR is to help each and every camper leave with a positive and light-filled reflection of themselves.

Balsam Base Zip LineLynne Neaves
Admissions Director, SOAR

Live Purposefully – A Reflection

Join Big John Willson on a beautiful reflection of perseverance, purpose, and achievement.


I had a top ten experience the summer of 2000, one of those amazing opportunities that leaves you breathless, invigorated, and rejuvenated.  I had the very good fortune to summit Mount Katahdin, the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, in Maine this summer with a wonderful group of students.  The day began at 6:30 am as we rolled out of our tents into a world filled with clouds, mist, a spattering of rain, dashing our hopes of a beautiful summit day.  At nearly sea level we had over 5,000 feet of elevation to gain before reaching the summit.  As we embarked on this tremendous journey, the sun came out and filled our morning with spectacular terrain, lush mountain foliage, and breathtaking vistas.  We worked hard as we ascended upward with each step, and by mid morning felt we were making excellent progress.  Approximately 12:00 noon we summitted and to our dismay realized it was not the peak of Katahdin.  We had not yet traversed the ridge named “The Knife’s Edge”.  We debated the merits of continuing onward and upward, or having reached a respectable goal, descending the mountain.  A vote of 4 to 7, and we forged ahead toward the elusive summit. 


Immediately we realized “The Knife’s Edge” was an entirely different beast.  This daunting and intimidating ridgeline spans 2.5 miles of rocky outcroppings, and requires climbing moves to complete a successful traverse.  This band of adventurers continued to advance on the precious goal of the summit.  The weather changed bringing mist, rain, and its very good friend wind. Howling, knock you down and laugh at you wind turned this day hike into an epic journey of humans testing their spirit and will, and finding the courage and strength to realize their goals.  “It must be soon now” I said, “Surely we are almost there.”  Our bodies reminding us that we are not mountaineers, screaming to stop, to rest, to abandon this assault on our abilities.  Then at 2:30 pm suddenly, through the mist and clouds, our goal was there staring at us.  We had climbed to the top and we were courageous and proud, and most amazingly triumphant.


We had overcome fear, self-doubt, and a daunting physical barrier to achieve our goal.  We stayed together supported one another, and would not be deterred.  I am still so proud of my summit team Drew, Max, Ryan, Andy, Joey, Eric, Jeff, Andrew, Mike, and Mark.  Thank you for reminding me why it is so important to live purposefully.

Life Success Attributes by Indy the Cat – Goal Setting

Meow, it’s me again…You know, Colonel Indy the Camp Cat. I’m back in action to talk a little about the next Life Success Attribute -Goal-Setting. I took a little time this morning to flip through SOAR’s staff manual to really understand how SOAR uses Goal-Setting to create a successful experience for your camper.Image

SOAR Students are encouraged to utilize a challenge-by-choice model. This model creates a degree of empowerment as students make choices regarding their participation.

Our campers and students have the opportunity to participate in our high ropes course at the Balsam Base Camp. Each participant set a personal goal when approaching the high ropes course which will be accepted and encouraged by their instructors and group. Some students will set a goal to complete the entire course blind-folded 5 times. Others will set a goal to put on a harness and climb to the top of the ladder then come back down. Whichever goal is set, it must be attainable and realistic.

SOAR students are involved in the planning process of their daily schedule, menus, program itinerary and activities in which they choose to participate.

For each menu and each program the overall group goal is to create and prepare well rounded and healthy meals. With these parameters our instructors help guide the group to set attainable food goals based on the following questions….How many days will we be out on expedition? Do we need to pack food in our backpacks? How many meals are we prepping for? Is everyone’s dietary need met? With these questions, the large goal becomes a little smaller and attainable.

SOAR students learn the APIE process, and systematically evaluate choices and decisions, both in discussion and in meetings.

APIE is an acronym used most with team development activities that provides a foundation for the rest of the summer program.

Assess – the situation. Each person can provide a strength.

Plan – map out the challenge and think through what is needed to complete that challenge.

Implement – Try the plan.

Evaluate – Did the plan work?

SOAR students are encouraged to divide projects into smaller and manageable components.

When presented with the opportunity to go backpacking, many students will automatically stonewall thinking the activity is daunting. However, backpacking in the most minimal and manageable activity. The group sits with a map and picks the area in which they want to explore. They then take that overall plan and break it into realistic distances to hike each day. Again, make each goal attainable.

SOAR students develop 3 goals to work towards during their time at SOAR, and individual reflections with instructors helps monitor achievement towards their stated objectives.

SOAR is a success based program. In fact, SOAR stands for Success Oriented Achievement Realized. You, your camper, and your camper’s instructors will all discuss 3 realistic and obtainable goals, yes ones that will challenge your camper. You know them best, you know their social skills, where frustrations manifest, their academic needs, and SOAR is here to assist in overcoming these “obstacles.”

I know my goal is to get as much tuna as possible. Well I have realized that I have to earn it and with that I create daily goals – give my owner just enough positive attention, know when other staff members aren’t available to pet me, remind myself that Chelsea’s lunch is not mine also, etc. I invite you to also use these tools in your home to create attainable goals. Signing off, Colonel Indy.