Our Mission

Rise Above looks to equip students in a way that will allow them to reach their full, God given potential through reading, phonics and credit recovery programs. The goal is to allow students to become connected to a community of people, businesses, and education through counseling, networking and resource sharing.

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Our Staff


Neil Fernandes

Founder, Pastor and Executive Director

Neil’s background in a wide range of managerial roles gives him a strong foundation to build a team and a systematic approach which will see Rise Above long into the future. As well, having served in the armed forces, Neil has the discipline to see difficult situations completely through to their end.

As a Pastor in the Free Methodist church, a graduate of Spring Arbor University, and an active citizen of Jackson County, Neil has developed a large support network of mentors, community leaders, and professionals to lean on for guidance and leadership.

With more than 20 years of professional, ministerial, and volunteer experience Neil is ready to help the students of Rise Above overcome whatever obstacles lay before them with hope and courage.



Veronica Fernandes

Founder, Volunteer Coordinator & Executive Assistant

Veronica has a servant’s heart and is ready to complete any task given to her with excellence.  Being an athlete she is naturally competitive and will not settle for defeat.  This has played out in her personal life, leaving her homeland and financial security, all to move with her family to Michigan on a vision God had given her.








Cody Buckhannon

Life Coach & Mentor

Cody is a Jackson native who is passionate about working with teenagers and understands the struggles which teens face here in Jackson County. Cody is an East Jackson alumni and a graduate of Siena Heights University. His passion for helping others is fueled by his desire to serve others through Christ. He is proud to call Jackson home and hopes to instill this same sense of pride in the teenagers he works with here at Rise Above.


edwin payne

MA,MS Licensed Professional Counselor

Edwin has a big heart and feels that God has called him to help and encourage others. Growing up in West Africa he has a lot of challenging experiences. These experiences have helped to feed his compassionate nature and desire to help. His passion and experiences have led him to become a professional counselor. Understanding the impact of systems on people Edwin's professional training and experiences include not only mental health services but community development as well.

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William Kauffman

Student Success Advisor

William is currently working on his masters in Christian Formation and graduated from Spring Arbor University for Camping Ministry. He is originally from Holland MI and is passionate about empowering students to take hold of their lives to reach the goals they dream of. He loves to help others connect with God and is always ready to listen.

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Kelsey Olivo

Classroom Facilitator

Kelsey is from Holland MI and is a recent graduate of Spring Arbor University with her bachelor’s degree in Sociology. She has a passion in serving the community she lives in and loving, encouraging and mentoring those around her to find and reach their God given potential. Her everyday work and motivation is rooted in Christ as she seeks to bring Him glory in all that she does here at Rise Above and within the community of Jackson.

Our Vision

Neil and Veronica Fernandes began Rise Above to give hope to high school students trapped in a cycle of hopelessness and those burdened by unsupported academics through education, job training, and character development.

They felt called to reach out to students who are marginalized in the system- those who have been removed from school. After much prayerful consideration and research on best practices for assisting this population, Rise Above was formed.

Rise Above seeks to offer educational support for students who have been suspended or expelled from school. Additionally, through educational support, entrepreneurial instruction, and faith based programming, Rise Above seeks to meet the academic, emotional, physical, and spiritual needs of every student.