On Thursday, April 4, nine students from Jasper High School triumphantly reached the Thompson Creek Trailhead after a five-day backpacking trip in the Sipsey Wilderness.
The young men hiked more than 25 miles, squeezed through caves, set their eyes upon the largest Tulip Poplar tree in Alabama, and more incredibly in this day and age spent five days without cell service.
The trip was part of the Venture Out pilot program between Jasper High School and Camp McDowell using wilderness backpacking as a backdrop to grow strong leaders in the school and in the community.
Teachers, administrators, and senior leaders selected students to join a school group called The Institute of Excellence mentoring program. Many of these students are already leaders on the athletic fields of Jasper High School, and the school wanted to make sure these talented students reached their leadership potential in the classroom and in the community as well.
The program started this year, and this Venture Out trip provided one of the first opportunities for this group of young leaders to grow not only in their experiences, but in toughness, courage, and knowledge of the natural world.
Jasper High School SGA President Thomas Ward, Assistant Principal Beth Kennedy and Principal Jonathon Allen selected students who have potential to step up and lead their classes in a positive way.
Allen said the group involves approximately 25 male students.
"We believe this will extend beyond May when Thomas graduates," he said. "This is a young group of guys who we feel has already demonstrated great leadership capacity, but we want them to have that support," as well as have the chance to develop skills and build relationships with the faculty."
The participants in the trip were sophomores Manny Havis, Shamar Washington, Tebow Rudolph, E.J. Colbert, Curtis Cavett; juniors DJ Farris, Sheldrick Cherry and Kentavius Catlin; and senior Thomas Ward.
These young men took the opportunity to grow and face unique challenges as a group. Sheldrick Cherry said of the trip, “I feel like God answered my prayers. To go on a trip like this is something that I’ve always wanted to do.”
The young men finished a successful five-day trip by roasting fish they caught over the fire, and walking out the next day to load the bus and return to civilization.
The success of this Venture Out trip was a success larger than just the growth of these young men. It was a connection of many different parts of the Walker County community coming together.
Funding was made possible through the Youth Leadership Walker County Partnership whose youth leaders portioned some of their grant money towards funding this trip.
It took tremendous planning from Jasper High School administrators and teachers. Additional funds came from the Jasper Junior Crescent Women’s Study Club. St Mary’s Episcopal Church from Jasper provided the bus for these students to get to and from the trail. Camp McDowell provided the structure and planning to make this trip possible. The Venture Out leader is Seth Justman, the Outreach Specialist for McDowell Environmental Center.
This trip was not only an incredible experience for the students on the trip-it was an incredible culmination of a community dedicated to growing the next generation and seeing that come to fruition.