Staff Member Biographies
We the staff of Higher Ground A Resource Center, are 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 a company we operate and hold the following values to utmost standards: Honor, Integrity and Excellence.
Jansen Azarias - higher ground Executive Director/Founder
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 in 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 and 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 Fund raising 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.
Barbara azarias - director of operations/co-founder
My name is Barbara Azarias and I am the wife of Jansen Azarias 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 working 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 Community and Family Services allows me to utilize my experiences in building community and leadership systems within several organizations. However, out of all these experiences, being a single mother, the death of my father and being a cancer survivor became the source of my passion.
I want to see a generation of students that invest in their community, schools and family. I want to reach a higher ground together with our families.
Fernando Gil La Madrid - Program Manager
I have been with Higher Ground since March of 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 went through.
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.
desmond davis - RTE Team Manager
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 a child advocate which 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.
rob lester - Director of Development and Community Relations
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 getting my Bachelor of Science in Education.
In 2014, after a three year stint as a PE teacher I began serving full time at Higher Ground. But 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 Program Director I oversee the day to day operations of the youth center. Every day I get to see our Life Changers shape the lives of the youth we serve. One such youth was my own daughter who started Higher Ground with all F’s and one D. By the end of that first year she had all A’s and one B. Higher Ground is not only my job it’s my life and I love what I do.
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.
rebecca davis - higher ground office manager
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 Jr. High 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.
As the Office Manager at Higher Ground, it is my job to set the stage for how our student's day will be during our program. Ensuring that the facilities are kept up, all questions are answered, and that everyone is greeted with a smiling face.
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.
Analisa barreras - Assistant site coordinator
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 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 now work here.
I was born and raised in Tucson Arizona. 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 ground, as the assistant site coordinator, is 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 through me working here at Higher Ground I can make a difference in at least one child, and make a change in the community.
Araceli mendibles - child and family advocate
Hi my name is Araceli Mendibles.
My highest educational attainment was 1 year of college.
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.
I am a Child Advocate here at Higher Ground. In my role I have the opportunity to build relationships with the 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 to help the students in this community succeed at what they put their minds to.
Andris rapa - community and public liason
During my graduate career, the focus of my work revolved around creating and coordinating events for students surrounding environmentally sustainable causes. After graduation, I realized it was the programming aspect around students that was my real passion. I discovered Higher Ground as I explored opportunities offered through Americorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) and immediately felt a connection to the program.
My parents immigrated from South America to California, where I was born the youngest of three sons. Always being the competitive type, I challenged myself academically to be the first member in my family to graduate college. If not for the consistent support I received along the way, and the motivation to distinguish myself from my brothers, I would have never been able to realize that goal.
As Enterprise Programs Coordinator at Higher Ground, I look forward to passing on the guidance, skills, and support that was given to me. My mission will include contributing to, and furthering the success of our high school students, no matter the career path or future they choose.Working in tandem with the community, I look forward to addressing the challenges facing local youth and providing the foundation to help them triumph as they grow up to be productive members of the community at large.
ariel fry - americorps vista behavior and data management
I joined Higher Ground through AmeriCorps VISTA in June 2016. Every day since then I have found my work here to be extremely meaningful and the people inspiring. One of the foremost reasons for that is our purpose extends not just to the daily activities at Higher Ground, but to redefining how students, families, and the community obtain success through community contribution.
In my own experience, being from a small town with limited resources, individual leadership and community involvement was the most important thing I could witness growing up. Without those models and that guidance, I would not have been able to foresee myself doing some of the things that I did that brought me to my own successes.
At Higher Ground, my main role is to improve our data management. I also assist in teaching our Computers and Technologies course and lead engagement sessions at S.T.A.R. Academy.
To further contribute to the community, I would like to know how we can apply leadership roles to other organizations to turn up the volume on the community contribution conversation.
sabrina salcido - Americorps state child and family advocate
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.