AmeriCorps VISTA Andris Rapa speaks about the magnificent rise of Higher Ground and the inspiring AmeriCorps Opening Day Event that occurred there.
Higher Ground Resource Center has an inspiring story. From the humble beginnings of a living room, to the halls of a middle school surrounded by a myriad of other resource organizations. It is a place that truly serves the community with the only goal being to educate and provide opportunity and access to recreational activities to the underserved. Higher Ground accomplishes what is at the very root of AmeriCorps’ mission, and it can be summed up in the motto of the organization; Reach, Transform, Elevate.
The very site where it stands today, Wakefield Middle School, was a statistic of devastating budget cuts to the education system in Tucson. With declining enrollment and lack of support, on May 24th, 2013, the doors to this public school were shut. However, the founder of Higher Ground, Jansen Azarias, did not see a statistic, but an opportunity. Through connections he and his team had developed within the community, he was able to lease the space and call it home to Higher Ground. Today, Wakefield Middle School stands as a symbol as to what can be accomplished, even if times seem bleak.
Given its history, Higher Ground at Wakefield Middle School was the perfect site for the AmeriCorps Opening Day Event. Not only was the building’s story inspiring, but one month previously, the halls had been painted with beautiful murals for the 9/11 Day of Service. These newly painted hallways were a perfect place to practice my speech and get motivated to speak on behalf of Higher Ground during the Opening Day Event. The event went off without a hitch and it was truly an honor to speak at the same venue as State Representative John Christopher Ackerley, fellow AmeriCorps member Maurice Washington, and Mayor Jonathan Rothschild. Other elected officials were seated in the audience showing support, such as Pima County Supervisor Ramón Valadez. Seeing the amount of government representation present alongside AmeriCorps members in the fight against poverty showed how strongly resolved the community was to address this issue.
The event concluded with Mayor Rothschild leading the AmeriCorps members in the swearing in ceremony. It was certainly powerful to see the room filled with volunteers ready to serve their country. I would like to thank all the volunteers who were involved in planning and running the AmeriCorps Opening Day Event and of course all the wonderful AmeriCorps members who dedicate their to time to service. The partnerships AmeriCorps is developing with non-profits like Higher Ground are truly transforming communities across the nation, and it is wonderful to witness this action first hand.