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Evangel graduate helps at-risk youths through nonprofit

May 10, 2012 | Evangel University News

Growing up in inner city St. Petersburg, Florida, Ron Harris’ childhood was anything but easy. As a senior in high school, Harris had already faced family tragedy, challenges and setbacks and found himself at a place where he did not know what to do with his life.

“The Lord provided that answer through football at Evangel University,” says Harris. “Coach Keith Barefield called my mother about me one day out of the blue.”

Within a week, Harris was on a bus on his way to attend Evangel — a school he had never even seen, and soon he was having experiences he never imagined.

As a member of Evangel’s football team, Harris had the opportunity to travel to China with the team in 1991. It was the first time any American football team played ball in China.

In addition to athletics, he was gifted in music. Harris was a member of Evangel’s concert choir that performed at Carnegie Hall for the first time in EU’s history.

According to Harris, Evangel helped form his worldview, and it shaped his vision for future ministry. “By experiencing Evangel, I discovered my purpose in life,” he says. “My mission is to teach, ignite and launch hope in others.”

After graduating from Evangel in 1992, Harris joined the athletic ministry team at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, where he was the men’s campus director for eight years.

Next, he served as national parent director with Children First America, a national organization that provides scholarships to low-income youth.

After seeing the needs of children and teens throughout the United States, Harris felt God calling him to serve the youth in his own Arkansas community.

“When I learned of the challenges that kids in my own back yard faced, I felt compelled to start working with these at-risk youth and their families to help reach their goals and dreams in life,” he said. 

With this vision in his heart, Harris left Children First America, and he and his wife Monique, following God’s leading, moved from Fayetteville to Springdale.

A Level Up: Impacting youth and adults

According to Harris, he did not know why God was leading his family to Springdale until they moved.

“I then became aware of the educational needs in the Hispanic and Marshallese populations in Springdale,” says Harris. “I learned of the huge learning challenges that existed, and I knew that I was supposed to help these kids in this community become successful.”

In 2005, Harris founded A Level Up (ALU), a nonprofit organization that provides leadership tools that facilitate change and motivate youth as well as adults to impact the world in a positive way.

During the school year, ALU offers student development programs through school assemblies and one-on-one mentoring and tutoring programs.

“Since the 2000s, the Hispanic population has more than quadrupled in Northwest Arkansas,” says Harris. “Many ethnic students have had a difficult time transitioning forward in their educational process and are deficient in English, math, science and reading.”

Seeing this need, Harris met the challenge head on by developing “Above and Beyond Life Skills Development,” a program that offers disadvantaged youth the opportunity to overcome academic and cultural difficulties they face after integrating into a new society through tutoring and mentoring.

Working through a Springdale school district, ALU also offers Camp Impact, a summer leadership program for students designed to develop personal growth through athletics, academics and art. Last summer, more than 200 second through fifth graders attended Camp Impact. 

Having a core staff of only five, ALU is fielded by donations and volunteers. During 2011, more than 100 volunteers from corporate companies like Wal-Mart, Tyson, JB Hunt and PepsiCo served at A Level Up. According to Harris, ALU impacted 7,000 people last year through programs and school assemblies.

Investing in lives

His efforts are not limited to the Springdale community. As the global director of disaster response at Worldwide Missionary Evangelism, he recently was involved in raising money and providing volunteers for Joplin’s episode of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. After the tornado, he facilitated more than 2,000 volunteers to help with disaster relief.

During Christmas, more than 700 children in Joplin received Christmas gifts through A Level Up. Harris says he is continuing to partner with the schools in Joplin that were affected by the tornado.

Harris credits his mother for giving him the example to always help others and also for helping him find his calling at Evangel. “The Lord used my mother, and I was obedient to her instructions to go play football at Evangel. By going, I fulfilled the call of God on my life for ministry training,” he says.

“I would not be where I am today without Evangel’s well rounded, practical hands-on training in the classroom; teachers who cared and took interest in molding and shaping my life; and coaches who mentored me as a man and invested in my life spiritually,” Harris says.

PHOTO CAPTION: Evangel graduate Ron Harris, left, last year helped raise $100,635 and provided 2,000 volunteers for Joplin’s episode of “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition

 Cassie McDaniel, Evangel’s 2012 marketing major of the year

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