• Pioneer Project

The Top 5 Reasons for Choosing Pioneer Project

Looking for High Quality, Domestic Gap Year Programs? Here's why to choose Pioneer Project.

Choosing Gap Year programs right now is a tricky business! Balancing the uncertainty of Covid-19 with the desire for young people to broaden their horizons through a Gap Year has created a confusing time.  Pioneer Project is a 100% hands-on Gap Year Program based in rural western North Carolina. We still have space for up to 7 students and are excited to safely offer a fantastic program with a track record of powerful impacts. So why choose us? Here are some good reasons...

1. Small, rural, place-based programs are safest

With many families rightly concerned about sending children far from home to travel widely, our program is ideally situated to deliver a safe experience. Though North Carolina is experiencing a surge currently, it is mostly confined to large cities like Charlotte and Raleigh. Our county (in the western tip of the state) has only had 39 cases to date and it is so rural that a surge here is highly unlikely. Nevertheless, you can never be too safe! So, here are some ways we will strive to keep our students safe, and are ideally prepared to do so.

  • The group size is under 10, so the germ bubble will be small

  • We are two hours from any large metropolitan areas ("2 hours from anywhere" is the local motto)

  • We will quarantine our staff 2 weeks before program start and students will be homestead / wilderness based for the first 2 weeks, staying in separate spaces

  • We have access to tests from our local health department and will test all students two weeks into the program to ensure everyone is healthy

  • Instructors can come to us and teach outside

  • We will leave the homestead to go on wilderness trips, thus have very limited potential for being infected by large crowds

Read more about our Covid-19 approach on our FAQ page.

2. 100% Hands On

"There was always something new and it was very exciting and I got my adventure and I got to meet all these cool people…and see viewpoints I had never seen before." --Former Student

Students are opting out of college for a Gap Year to do something other than take online courses. Most of their colleges have already pivoted to online models, but something just doesn't feel too exciting about that. Our program, since its inception in 2013, has been purely experiential. From students getting their hands in the dirt helping out on our idyllic mountain farm, to using them to shape a piece of red hot steel(pictured above), to working them hard on a rock face that they never thought they could climb, this is a program where the hands-on experience is paramount and can't be translated into a virtual environment.

3. Working with the Founders & Local Experts

“Adam and Allison are dynamic teachers and two of my most influential role-models. With their vast knowledge on the practicalities of conscious and sustainable living, they taught me to reflect critically and change aspects of my life that do not sit well. They inspired me to live mindfully and be patient with myself. Adam and Allison led me as a peer, and through their inherent respect, a rich friendship prospers. I treasure their wise lessons and feel eased by the knowledge that they continue to teach, guide, and enlighten others. The world needs more like them."  --Former Student

Most programs keep their most experienced folks in the office and put relatively inexperienced instructors in the field with students. Few of them allow students to work day-to-day with the founders. Allison and Adam Haigler have worked in the outdoor and experiential education for decades and are the primary instructors, mentors, and owners of The Pioneer Project. Allison has spent years mastering crafts like journalmaking (she is a successful professional in this realm. Check out her work!), fiber arts (from spinning wool to creating custom knitting patterns), to making incredible soaps. She is also an accomplished gardener and herbalist who regularly teaches workshops in our area. Before becoming a professional artist and mother, she spent more than a decade as an instructor in outdoor, environmental, and international education. Meanwhile, Adam's no slouch either. After embarking on his own gap years as a teenager, he helped his parents write The Gap Year Advantage to tout the benefits of gap years. He has since spent over 13 years as an educator. He has worked for some of the best known organizations in the Gap Year field, as a former instructor and administrator for Carpe Diem Education and Lead Instructor for Outward Bound. He entered the public schools 6 years ago where he won a regional teaching award his first year, wrote a bestselling book his 3rd year, and helped bring his school international attention through creating innovative, experiential models that schools across the country are now integrating. He has directed three outdoor programs and spent hundreds of days with students in the field. But it's not just us. Our area is filled with expert crafters who teach at the John C. Campbell Folk School, outdoor guides, and homesteaders. Based on student interest, we can arrange countless workshops in basically any craft, homesteading skills, or wilderness expedition.

4. This place is spectacular and adventures are at our doorstep.

Students say, "When I came to this area it had everything I wanted...It’s so diverse and has so much to offer.  I guess what I really like about it is it’s an excellent place to make yourself and find yourself and be yourself."

The Homestead we call home is an 18-acre property with three charming houses, two creeks, eight chickens, two vivacious children, an orchard, a dog, and a bountiful vegetable and herb garden. Meanwhile, we are surrounded by 500,000 acres of wilderness unrivaled on the East Coast. We've lived out West and traveled to over 20 countries, but we find this wilderness to be some of the most exciting in the world, which is why we've called it home for the last 8 years!

When the wilderness calls us, we will answer with incredible adventures that can include backpacking, canoeing, whitewater paddling, mountain biking, and rock climbing, all guided by backcountry experts. Adam will be among those guides, after accruing well over 600 field days facilitating adventures for various outdoor programs.

Listen to student stories in our video.

5. Students have transformative experiences here.

”The most valuable life lesson I that I am physically and mentally capable to take on anything I put my mind to, but I should check in to make sure it fits my values..."

"It’s really given me reassurance that I can be whoever I want to be.  I don’t know what exactly I want to do and what exactly I don’t want to do, but anything I choose, as long as I’m happy, then that’s OK.  I didn’t really think that way before.  I kind of got sucked into the whole American Dream thing – where you have to be rich and famous.  That doesn’t seem like me now, because it’s not."

"It inspired me to do things I never thought I could do before.  It inspired me to push boundaries, especially physical ones.  I never thought I could climb mountains or hike trails or go canoeing…It inspired me to go places that I had never gone before and consider completely different fields of work and just to try everything…It was great."

"I’ve become a more independent thinker and am better at making decisions on my own and going for things that I’m passionate about."

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Brasstown, NC 28902, USA

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