Our Board of Directors has the general responsibility of the growth and oversight of the organization.
Their primary responsibility is to ensure the Higher Ground meets the financial needs to fully support the community. They raise funds for the operational needs of Higher Ground.
They also assist in advising, developing, and overseeing policy, programs, and direction, and assist with the leadership and general promotion of Higher Ground a Resource Corporation to support the organization’s mission and needs.
The Founder and Executive Director, has guided the formation and growth of Higher Ground from day one. He is the visionary who, after seeing the need in his own family, decided to start Higher Ground as a way to help kids in their homework. Coming from the Philippines when he was 18, he understood the need to break the poverty mentality from the youth and empower them to believe that they can achieve their dreams no matter what obstacles are in the way. Growing up in a dysfunctional family as a child, his vision goes just beyond seeing the organization grow. His heart is closely tied with the kind of youth Higher Ground serves and leads both the organization and youth in a direction guided by his intellect and passion. His wife Barbara Azarias and 2 sons, serves alongside with him in Higher Ground. Jansen is actively involved in all aspects of Higher Ground, with his main focus on Program Development, Staff/Volunteer Development and Recruitment, Community Relations and the marketing aspect of the organization. He is also directly involved in mentoring the kids as he believes that the only way to truly find out what is effective is to be with the people you serve.
Dave has been an Arizona resident for over 50 years. Raised in Phoenix with his four brothers and sister, he attended high school in Tucson. After earning his degrees while serving in the Navy he returned to Tucson where he currently lives with his wife Debbie D’Amore and daughter Brooke a freshman at Cal State Berkeley.
He has three grown sons, Brian, Nathan and Sean and daughters-in-law and six grandchildren. Dave has been active in his faith community of St. Michael and All Angels in Tucson for over 18 years.
Dave was a member of the Arizona State Legislature from 2003 to 2011 serving District 28 in Tucson. He served on Health, Human Services, Banking and Insurance, Higher Education and various adhoc committees during his tenure. Currently he is serving his first term in the Senate, serving on health, education and judiciary.
He has received numerous awards for his advocacy of children and families during his legislative career and had the reputation for being a reasonable, thoughtful and articulate legislator who reaches across the aisle to work in the best interest of Arizona. Dave is consistently endorsed by business groups as well as environmental advocates because of his ability to understand and work with others no matter what their perspective maybe on particular issues.
He is a Navy veteran, having served eight years in Iceland, Spain and the east coast in communications with the Naval Security Group. Dave is part of Operation Free a group of military veterans dedicated to freeing the United States from its foreign oil dependency and encouraging non fossil fuel clean energy resources be implemented and expanded throughout the United States but particularly on all military installations here and abroad. Dave was the Chief Executive Officer of La Paloma Family Services, Inc., a nonprofit child welfare agency for over 18 years. He has been working in child welfare and mental health services for over 30 years, practicing as a licensed counselor and administrator throughout southern Arizona. He currently serves as the Chief Development Officer of La Frontera Arizona, Inc., here in Tucson.
David holds degrees in management, psychology and counseling and is often asked to speak to various groups about these topics as well as legislative issues confronting the State of Arizona.
Mr. Bradley is the author of Management by Essay a compilation of essays written to his staff over a ten year period of time and Pursuits of Justice, a collection of speeches, editorials and essays written during his tenure in the legislature.
Our Secretary, has been a supporter of Higher Ground for many years. Both of his sons attend Higher Ground and are active in the Jujitsu program. Barry has 20 years of leadership experience, with expertise in project/program management, operations, logistics, engineering, and production.
An expert at designing, developing, and implementing detailed plans and projects that meet or exceed all customer requirements within budget, and on schedule. Experienced at coaching and inspiring associates to use their own unique skills and talents in a collaborative fashion that helps the whole team perform at the highest level.
Enjoys the challenge of taking a project through full cycle development, from new business opportunity, through design and integration, to implementation. Seeing a team develop and execute successfully through all phases is exciting and very rewarding to Barry.
With his unique leadership skills and relentless pursuit of excellence, he brings enhanced project and operations performance to Higher Ground.
Our Treasurer, has been in support of Higher Ground since Jansen and him first met at his gym. He offered to train Jansen's students in jujutsu for free at his own gym. He was also directly involved in fundraising for Higher Ground using his martial arts connection to put together an expo with UFC BantamWeight Dominick Cruz. David Reilly is the owner of Undisputed, one of Arizona's largest mixed martial arts facilities. Undisputed has literally doubled in size since his involvement and now works with both Pima Middle and High Schools, teaching boxing to federally funded students. David has a background in business and has worked as the CEO for Athletic Clubs and The Incubator Group before purchasing Undisputed.
Ken joined the board of Higher Ground in April 2016. He was a Certified Public Accountant for 40 years before retiring his license in 2011. His work experience includes public accounting, real estate development and management and 22 years in wealth management and family office services. He co-founded Cornerstone Advisors, Inc. of Bellevue, WA in 1983 and served as Chief Operating Officer before his retirement in 2005. He has spent winters in Oro Valley since 2005. Ken served on the Board of Directors of the Stone Canyon Community Foundation in Oro Valley for six years serving first as Secretary and then Treasurer before joining the Higher Ground board.
Simeon Wagner, a 68 year old African American born and raised in Minneapolis, Minnesota, joined the board of Higher Ground in 2016. He attended the University of Minnesota and Metropolitan State University. Simeon has worked primarily in the area of criminal justice programming and human services, specializing in Youth Services. He retired from the Hennepin County Juvenile Probation Division after 29 years of service in 2006. He has been a member of the Minnesota Governor’s General Crime Victims Advisory Council and a member of the Greater Minneapolis Council of Churches Core Advisory Council. He has been a Chair for the Minnesota Corrections Association and for the Wilder Elementary School Advisory Council. In 2006 he relocated to Tucson with his wife.
Bio Coming Soon!
Bio Coming Soon!
At Higher Ground A Resource Center, the staff is guided by a simple but strong foundation of love, morals, and ethics based on the Holy Bible. We start by recognizing the unlimited potential every individual possesses for a meaningful, responsible future. We also believe that every individual needs to be taught a set of values, self-control, and discipline in order to live a purposeful life.
As an organization, we operate and hold the following values to utmost standards: Honor, Integrity and Excellence.
I have guided the formation and growth of Higher Ground from day one through my passion and intellect. After seeing the need in my own family, I decided to start Higher Ground as a way to help kids with their homework. To this day, my wife and 2 sons serve alongside with me at Higher Ground.
Growing up in a dysfunctional family as a child, I came from the Philippines when I was 18, I understood the need to break poverty mentality and empower youth to pursue their dreams and build a legacy in their community. My heart is closely tied with the kind of youth Higher Ground serves. I share my hobby with the youth by coaching them in martial arts and leading our grappling team to tournaments. My faith in God continues to strengthen and motivate me in my calling.
I am actively involved in all aspects of Higher Ground, with a main focus on program development and quality, community relations and the fundraising aspect of the organization. I am also directly involved in mentoring and coaching the kids as I believe that the only way to truly find out what is effective is to be with the people you serve.
I want to see this community transformed and see the youth become the culture shaping catalysts of our future, a culture focused on legacy and compassion rather than personal achievement.
Jansen's achievements and accomplishments
Jansen has been the driving force in a partnership to help improve school environment and culture between HG and Hollinger, a K-8 TUSD school. In addition, HG has successfully integrated social emotional learning, life coaching, and community-building into the daily curriculum of SUSD’s Star Academy, and is working to continue this work with other surrounding schools and will be expanding this integration into other schools.
Furthermore, Jansen’s leadership has also led to the community schools initiative which integrates Higher Ground into the school model. Community schools is a nationally proven effective strategy that creates a community hub of all the necessary services integrated into the schools itself. Higher Ground will become the provider of all the school’s social service needs so that schools can focus on academic instruction and curriculum. This model will have Higher Ground co-leading the school with the principals to turn schools into a one stop model for students and families. This initiative is currently in 10 schools and both TUSD and SUSD want to expand this to majority of their schools. This impact has the potential to change the school system in Tucson and is in collaboration with Arizona Serve and La Frontera. This initiative has several partners backed by the Mayor’s office along with Pima County.
Jansen’s leadership has also led into opening the first Evening Reporting Center with Pima County Juvenile Court as a main strategy to reduce recidivism in the Pima County Juvenile population.
Currently through its different in-school and out of school programming, HG serves over 2000 youth annually. 3 years ago, Higher Ground was serving 300 students annually.
Jansen also oversees HG’s 100+ regular UofA volunteers and 12 staff members.
In addition, he led his organization to have over 5 different contracts with different organizations in a matter of 2 years totaling to $600,000 of revenue a year.
Judo (Brown Belt) JuJitsu (Purple Belt)
My name is Barbara Azarias and I am Jansen's wife and Co-Founder of Higher Ground. I have guided Higher Ground since its birth through my experience and passion. I decided to start Higher Ground because of my desire to share my life story and help other people going through hard times.
I grew up in a small town in Colorado with a great family who raised me to be involved and to work for our church and community. However, I wasn’t aware of the many social issues that exist in our youth today. I have been in Tucson for over 20 years where and worked for charter schools.
My role as the Director of Operations allows me to utilize my experiences in building community and leadership systems within several organizations. However, out of all these experiences, being a former single mother, the death of my father and being a cancer survivor became the sources of my passion.
I want to see a generation of students who invest in their community, schools and family. I want to reach a higher ground together with our families.
I have been with Higher Ground since March 2015. I found about Higher Ground through my stepdad. Now I have the privilege to start working with this wonderful organization.
I am 24 years old, and I have lived in Tucson my whole life. I am a recovered drug addict, and I am trying to use my past experiences to help change kids life so they don’t have to go through the same life I did.
My goal is to try and make an impact on these kids lives so that they know there is hope and you are able to make your life whatever you want it to be no matter what their lives may seem like at the moment.
I recognized at a young age that I enjoyed working with people, sharing experiences and working to solve problems. I began my service with youth at the age of 14, acting as a mentor to middle/high school students. After some time away from direct service with youth, my wife and I began serving as assistant youth leaders at the church we attend. It was at this point where I connected with our executive directors Jansen and Barbara Azarias, experienced Higher Ground and was excited about the vision cast. I served as a volunteer basis on a limited basis until December 2015, when I decided to join Higher Ground full time.
I am an Air Force brat, spending the first six years of my life in Honolulu, Hi. We reluctantly relocated to America's oven, also known as Tucson, AZ in the summer of 1994. I love sports,reading, music,anime, electronics, food, listening to and experiencing new perspectives. I have a passion for serving and reaching the youth in our community and their families.
I currently serve as the Behavioral Health Manager, managing the team that focuses on building meaning relationships and compiling information to assist in finding potential gaps in services for the students we serve.
My heart is to see each student we encounter make a impact in their area of influence, accomplish goals set out for themselves and contribute back to their community.
I was born in Tucson, but only stayed for 2 months since my dad was in the Air Force. We moved to Oklahoma where I grew up and graduated from high school. After graduating, I tried the college route, but was unsuccessful and found myself joining the Army. I served in Germany, Desert Storm, Korea, Ft. Benning and Ft. Riley. When I got out, I tried many things from becoming a certified Aircraft Mechanic, a youth pastor, to Senior Pastor. Eventually I found myself back in Tucson with my wife and 5 kids going to the U of A and getting my Bachelor of Science in Education.
In 2014, after a 3 year stint as a PE teacher, I began serving full-time at Higher Ground. However my journey with Higher Ground goes back to the beginning. I was privileged to be in the first meeting where Jansen shared his vision with the pastor of the church we were attending 8 years ago. From that point on, I was hooked and knew that one day I would be doing this full-time.
As the Director of Development and Community Relations I oversee the grants, fundraising, community partnerships and AmeriCorps.
I want to see a culture shift to where our students live out a selfless lifestyle and see that they can make a difference. If just one of our students can make a difference in our community when they leave Higher Ground, it will all be worth it.
I was the first in my family to graduate high school, go to college, and obtain a degree. I currently have my BS in Business Management through the University of Phoenix. I was a volunteer for Higher Ground for three years before officially becoming staff. My husband and I would volunteer to drive the van that picks up students from school and drops them off at the program, as well as assisting with Junior High Level homework.
Being born to a single teenage mother and growing up in a blended family, I always felt like the black sheep of the family. I never had anyone to look up to or anyone to talk to when I was feeling depressed, angry, or hurt. I've been on my own since I was 18 and have had to learn many of life's lessons on my own. As an adult I want to be that person that kids can feel comfortable venting to, talking to, or asking for advice from.
A change I would like to see in our community is that families obtain the support needed to raise their children. The saying "it takes a village to raise a child" is as true now as it was when it was first said. So many families are left alone to try to "figure things out" and don't realize that there are services they can get to help them when they need it.
I graduated from high school in the spring of 2015. I found out about Higher Ground through a friend who volunteered and was part of the Jiu Jiutsu program, I decided that I wanted to be a part of all this. I’ve volunteered here for 2 years and have been part of the Jiu Jitsu program. Once I graduated, I decided that I wanted to stick around Higher Ground and continue to help.
I was born and raised in Tucson. I am the second oldest of 4 girls. I’ve always been very involved with kids. I volunteer in my church’s youth and children programs, and I worked in the daycare at my high school.
My position here at Higher Groundis to make sure that the program is running smoothly. I run around with the kids and fill in wherever my assistance is needed.
I hope that by working here at Higher Ground I can make a difference in at least one child, and make a change in the community.
My name is Araceli Mendibles. In the summer of 2014 I came to HG to check out the summer program for my 10-year-old son. My sister's son was a part of the program and told me about it. I fell in love with the program and began volunteering in the front office during the 2014-2015 school year.
I left my teaching job of 22 years because I believe in what Higher Ground is doing in our community and want to continue growing with the mission of Higher Ground.
I am the Director of School Programs (Offsite Programs) here at Higher Ground. In my role I have the opportunity to build relationships with our local schools, students and their parents, learn about who they are as people and contribute to their success as future productive citizens.
What I would like to contribute to this community is building the bridge between Social Emotional learning and the classrooms in order to help the students in this community succeed at what they put their minds to.
I moved to Arizona in 2015 as an AmeriCorps volunteer after completing my graduate studies at California State University Fullerton. I was Tasked to create a program for high school students at Higher Ground, and implemented a program that developed workplace readiness and financial literacy while helping to establish the organization’s robotics team, the Higher Groundbreakers.
Part Peruvian, part Latvian, part ocean enthusiast, I was bit by the travel bug at birth. While studying abroad at the University of Queensland, I was fortunate enough to dive around the Great Barrier Reef, a memory I cherish having found myself in the middle of the desert.
I now serve as the AmeriCorps Program Manager which allows me to bring my diverse experiences to help lead a team of volunteers, putting service before self, in the fight against poverty.
Hi, I'm Sabrina Salcido!I graduated from high school in 2015 and now I'm a sophomore at Pima Community College. I heard about Higher Ground through my best friend Isa who is part of the staff here. I started volunteering at Higher Ground the summer of 2016 and fell in love with their mission and values. I have always loved working with kids and youth so this has been a perfect place to get involved.
I am now serving as an AmeriCorps state member. As a Child and Family Advocate, I get the opportunity to work with the students to built positive relationships and life skills. I want to inspire the kids in this community and help them realize they can go out in the world and make a difference.
Timothy is the son of Jansen and Barbara Azarias and was the ten year old boy that Higher Ground was started from. Timothy graduated from Cholla High Magnet School in 2013 and attended Christ for the nations institute to graduate with a Bachelor degree in Music. Music has played a big part in his life and would like to share the same experience he had with music with the young men and women at Higher Ground.He hopes to see young men and women changed by music to reach, transform and elevate their community.
Music is a universal language and can unify a community, that is the goal of the music program we have started at Higher Ground. The mariachi program teaches young men and women not just music, but where the music comes from and the effect it has on the community and themselves.
Kenny Briggs(spiderman)-Volunteer Coordinator - AmeriCorps VISTA
My name is Kenneth Briggs, and I’m 23 years old from Gallup, New Mexico. I am a graduate from the University of Arizona. I have volunteered with Higher Ground a little over a year and have been employed by Higher Ground for a little over a year as well.
I started as a part-time volunteer in the Outdoor Athletic Program, then moved to working with program as an AmeriCorp VISTA.
I have been very passionate about Youth Development for many years as well as creating a change in both my community and hopefully at a larger scale. I have learned many skills and have been a part of many opportunities such as, living abroad, attending University, being a Gates Millennium Scholar and now working with in a field that I more than enjoy.
I plan to continue a career in Education as well as Youth Development. I’m open to the future and more importantly the possibility that anything can happen.
Christina Rupp (Black Panther) - Basketball coach
Celeste Chacon (Poison Ivy) - Administrative Assistant
I am currently a senior at the University of Arizona, and I will be graduating in May 2018 with a Bachelors of Science in Family Studies and Human Development and a Bachelors of Arts in Psychology with a minor in Spanish. With this, I hope to work with South Tucson's at risk youth as a Juvenile Probation Officer.
I started working at Higher Ground in 2013 through the Tucson Youth Development program. When the program ended, I volunteered for two years then was hired as the Administrative Assistant.
I have always known I want to help others, especially in my community. Higher Ground has made my passion grow throughout the years. I love being a part of such a life changing organization!
Elvia obregon (Elektra) - Child and Family Advocate
My name is Elvia Olivares-Obregon. I was born in Carson City, California, but raised in Tucson since I was 2 years old. Even though I complain about Tucson summers, I wouldn’t want to live any place else. Nothing beats the Tucson sunsets and star-gazing during cool summer nights.
I graduated from Cholla High School in 1987 and continued my education at Pima Community College, receiving an Associates Degree in Social Work. Wanting to further my education, I decided to attend New Mexico State University where I received a Bachelors in Social Work.
I have worked with children for many years and have enjoyed every moment, but my greatest moment ever was when I became a mom. One of the toughest yet most rewarding jobs that I have had is raising a son on my own.
My desire for all children who come to Higher Ground is to not only practice the values of respect and honor during program, but also practice it when they go out to serve in the community.
Felicia Mendibles (Felix the Cat) - Office administrator
Hi, my name is Felicia, also known as Feli.
I am an office administrator here at Higher Ground. My job is ensuring that everything in the office is organized and running as smoothly as possible, as well as providing everyone who enters the building with a warm welcome.
I first heard of Higher Ground about 3 years ago from my mom. I decided to come check it out, and I was captivated with everything the program is doing for the youth in our community. I wanted to be involved. I started off as a volunteer art teacher along with my sister. After the school year ended, I continued to volunteer off and on for the next two years. In March 2017, I applied to work here full-time.
I love being able to come to work every day within the community I was raised and to be a part of a center that offers so many resources and support for families. My hope is that no matter where these kids go, they will remember the values of Higher Ground.
Cheryl Lopez (Xena warrior princess) - Family Engagement Liason
I am Cheryl Lopez, the Parent Liaison. I started with Higher Ground from the beginning 10 years ago. In December, I came back and have been loving it ever since. I am able to offer services, such as financial planning, parenting classes, grief classes and parent support sessions. As we are here to reach, restore and elevate our students, my goal is to do the same but for parents/guardians.
Jessica Mendibles (Pocahontas) - Art Teacher
Ryo Sato (Mr. Miyagi) - Rec Coach (Judo), SEL Instructor and Child Advocate
My name is Ryo Sato. I graduated from the University of Arizona with a B.A. in Linguistics in 2013. During my time in college, I was a member of two honor societies and earned summa cum laude with a GPA of 3.9.
I started coming to volunteer at Higher Ground in the summer of 2014 to coach judo. I was coaching judo on and off for about 2 years, and I was officially hired on December 2016 as a Rec Coach, SEL Instructor, and Child Advocate.
I was born and raised in Tokyo, Japan. I spent 19 years of my life there and couldn’t speak English when I moved to Tucson back in 2008. I started practicing Judo in 2006 when I was in high school. I won the AZ State Championship two times and State Championships in NM and CA in Judo.
I start my day usually at off-sites, teaching social emotional learning through judo and different activities. At HG, I build relationships with students, teach social skills and coach judo during program hours.
My hope is to be able to share my knowledge and experiences with the community I serve and make a positive impact.
Jessie Haro - Boxing coach
My name is Jesse Haro, I am the boxing coach at Higher Ground. The name of the boxing club is Scrapyard Boxing. At Higher Ground my credentials as a coach include a combined number of 100 amateur and professional bouts.
It is my privilege and honor to coach at Higher Ground to instruct and mentor both boys and girls who want to what has been called the sweet science of boxing. I coach the fundamentals of boxing, teach kids strength and conditional skills, as well as teach them that hard work and dedication will enable them to obtain anything they pursue in life.
Never let your Guard Down!
Rema Hamdan - Community Schools AmeriCorps Manager
Daniel Payette (Wolverine) - Youth Success Center Staff
My name is Daniel Payette, and I am a Juvenile Surveillance Representative working in the Youth Success Center at Higher Ground. I have lived my entire life in Tucson, with the exception of my time in the Army. I have attended both Pima Community College, where I studied social services, and the U of A. Go Wildcats!
I am a proud parent myself and many times in my life I have been told I am a “helper” and have a knack for working with kids and young adults. I have always been very involved with mentoring kids, including coaching youth sports and working as a child advocate at Youth On Their Own.
My role in the Youth Success Center enables me to build positive relationships with court involved kids. I teach them general life skills, positive change exercises, and engage in friendly sports competitions!
My hope is for our kids to believe in themselves and their futures as much as us adults believe in them. I also hope they can continue to grow and learn in their quest for a healthy and happy life.
Todd Harriman (Punisher) - Youth Success Center Staff
One of my main goals is to make sure that every child that I work with makes sound decisions and does what is necessary to have a happy and successful adolescence. I firmly believe that with a solid foundation and good support system, every child is capable of success, no exceptions. However, it is also important to enjoy childhood and all the beautiful aspects of being a kid.
I graduated from Sahuaro High School in the 90s and Pima Community College a few years later, with an associate’s degree. I have worked with the Youth of Tucson as well as all over the world for the past 18 years. The first 9 years was spent as a Residential Advisor at a boarding school near Sabino Canyon. As a RA I provided security, counsel, and mentoring to teens all over, including Puerto Rico, Brazil, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and many more countries. The last 9 years I have spent as a Surveillance Officer for the Pima County Juvenile Court. While I still provide security, counsel, and mentoring I now help the youth navigate through the Juvenile Justice System and learn through the crossroads and Real Colors curriculum.
In my spare time I enjoy reading books and watching tv. I try to stay in shape by riding my bike, playing golf, and going to the gym. But, unfortunately, I also like to eat… A lot. Most of all I love watching sports and want everyone to remember that REAL MEN WEAR BLACK! GO RAIDERS!!!
Higher Ground welcomed Hollinger staff and teachers back to school by serving them lunch and building community with them to show our support and appreciation for all that they do for our students. Higher Ground gave teachers some supplies and books and gave them a tour of Higher Ground. We also gave them contacts and what support they can expect from our organization in working together to educate our youth. We then ended with a massive game that we play with our students, giving Hollinger staff and teachers a peak on what our students do for fun. Over 50 Hollinger staff and teachers showed up.