Our Mission

Rise Above looks to equip students in a way that will allow them to reach their full, God given potential through relationship restoration and academic credit recovery. Rise Above works 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.









Area Manager

Nick is a servant leader who loves the city of Jackson and is passionate about education. With a diverse background in ministry, business, and corporate project management, Nick has a lot of experience to draw upon to help the staff and students at Rise Above.

A long-time high school tennis coach, Nick is active in the community in a variety of other ways — volunteering at events and in the schools throughout the Northwest district, being an elder at Rivertree Church, coaching youth sports, and serving on several non-profit boards over the course of his over 15 years living in Jackson County.

Nick brings enthusiasm to everything he does. He believes his energy, creativity and positive outlook can motivate students to not only have success during their time at Rise Above, but also to thrive long-term and reach their individual potential.


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.


ciara flint

High School Classroom Facilitator

Ciara is a local that has an urgency to serve the youth in her community. Her desire is to inspire kids to dream big and to love even harder. More so, to establish a relationship with God and bring out their God-given gifts. She graduated from Spring Arbor University with a Bachelor's degree in Psychology and is currently applying to earn her PsyD degree. Ciara loves to challenge the youth and by using innovative ideas she hopes that she will be able to get students to engage in something out of their norm.

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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.


Brittany rowlison

Middle School Classroom Facilitator

Brittany is a Jackson native with a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education from Spring Arbor University. 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.

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.