Sometimes in costume.
Higher Ground A Resource Center (Higher Ground) began in 2007 Tucson community as an idea in the living room of co-founders Jansen and Barbie Azarias. Higher Ground has grown from those humble beginnings to provide unique programming to students throughout Tucson in the classroom, at its Student Wellness Center, and through the Tucson Community Schools Initiative.
Higher Ground employs individualized tools and methods to integrate social-emotional learning into afterschool activities at the Student Wellness Center including robotics, art, music, and jujitsu classes. Within the Tucson Community School Initiative, Higher Ground, along with La Frontera and Arizona Serve and Higher Ground AmeriCorps members, aims to build an integrated focus on academics, health and social services, youth and community development, and community engagement. This holistic approach aims to address the potential of the whole student and aligns with Higher Ground’s purpose to be a culture-infusing catalyst that aims to create system-wide change. In the words of Higher Ground AmeriCorps VISTA Meredith Been, “[We] are building up our high-need communities – one child and family at a time – and creating collaborative networks of support that ultimately uplift our entire city.”
This year, Arizona Serve is placing several AmeriCorps members to support Higher Ground’s work. From AmeriCorps State Community Schools Members working within school buildings one-on-one with students at risk of chronic absence to serving within Student Wellness Center recreational activities to motivate and encourage students, AmeriCorps members are exploring new ways to serve youth while gaining unique perspectives on the richness and diversity of the Tucson community.
AmeriCorps State Member Oscar Montoya is currently in his third term as an AmeriCorps member at Higher Ground.
“I love working with kids” says Oscar, “I get to teach them what I was never taught at their age helping them with more or less. The most important thing I’ve learned from Higher Ground is…that patience and confidence is key when working with these kids. I had lost almost every piece of confidence when I had graduated high school…and they had given me said confidence back after my first year with Americorps and Higher Ground.”
AmeriCorps State member Allure Barcelo, who got her to start as a student in Higher Ground programming, shares of Higher Ground: “They haven’t changed at all…they still go and pick up kids or drop off kids or if someone is in need they will find any kind of resource to help them, it’s just how I remember it.”
Within the Student Wellness Center, AmeriCorps members have served a total of 157 new students in the past three months. AmeriCorps members carry out a number of tasks from assisting with Homework, like AmeriCorps State Member Natalie Salinski’s work with 13 youth, to designing engaging S.T.E.A.M. curriculum centered on science and the arts. Natalie reports that, after coaching her students and creating a welcome environment, “ they are comfortable, and love playing with her. From receiving support in their happiness, learning, and management at the Student Wellness Center, the students have…become more interactive.”
Higher Ground offers a unique, community-based environment to students. To learn more, please visit them online!