It all started in…
Jansen's living room, shortly after he met his wife, Barbie, and her 10-year-old son, Timmy.
At the time, Timmy was struggling in school, so Jansen offered to begin tutoring him, helping him on those subjects that he had the most difficulty with. Soon, Timmy began inviting his friends over to join them, because almost all of them were failing or behind in school, particularly in reading and mathematics.
Aside from struggling in school, they all had one other thing in common...
They all had stories of trauma: divorced parents, single moms, incarcerated family members, family members involved in gangs, drug or alcohol abuse in their household, daily struggles associated with poverty, abusive home lives... to name only a few.
So at the young age of 10, they all found themselves feeling defeated in life. They saw no potential in themselves, no worthwhile future, nothing for them to fight for. And because of this mindset and their traumatic life experiences, academic success was even more challenging for them.
Eventually, Jansen married Barbie, and Timothy became his son. At that time, they also decided to do something about that problem.
In 2007, Higher Ground began, housed at the Mission View Assembly, where the Azarias family offered their services, free of charge because the community was unable to afford even a small service fee. The result was overwhelming.
Within two years, Higher Ground quickly outgrew the church facility that they had been using, with an average of 60 students attending their After-School program every day. In addition, there were between 30 and 50 students on the waiting list, even without advertising any services.
Due to the increasing demand and need, Higher Ground reached out to Pima County Parks and Recreation in late 2010 to propose building a youth center at one of the local parks. This prompted their incorporation as a 501(c)3 organization, and initiated their efforts to meet with various leaders in the community.
It was then that Jansen and Barbie quit their full-time jobs to devote themselves to Higher Ground.
After meeting James Fish and some of the leaders of TUSD, the district offered to partner with Higher Ground, providing six entire classrooms at Valencia Middle School for use during the 2011-2012 school year.
Immediately the After-School program grew from 60 students to 130, with more than 40 on the waiting list. Even then, Higher Ground remained free-of-charge to the community. At that time, Higher Ground also expanded its service offerings, with homework tutoring, math and reading programs, tackle football for our middle school students, a dedicated boxing team, dance, art, choir, high-school career internships, character development for boys and girls, jujutsu and financial literacy.
Now, through a partnership with Tucson Unified School District, Higher Ground is housed and plays a role in preserving a 70-year-old historic landmark: the Wakefield Middle School. With the closure of Wakefield Middle School as a public school, the community was devastated. And due to school closures, Valencia Middle School then needed all of its classrooms, which prompted the move into Wakefield Middle School, giving us more space and community outreach.
According to research, a youth with Timothy's risk factors – divorced family, low-income neighborhood, high-crime neighborhood, and low-performing schools – is eight-times or more likely to drop out of school. After five years of Higher Ground, he not only graduated from Cholla High School, he graduated from college at the Christ For the Nations Institute, returned to Higher Ground to work at Higher Ground as a Child and Family advocate, building relationships with the youth, giving back to the community, and helping to "reach, transform, and elevate" lives. He now serves our country in the United States Marine Corps.
Timothy’s story of success and community contribution is not unique among our youth alumni.