Rise Above Executive Director Sarah Baldiga, speaks at the opening of the Mercedes
Ramirez-Newkirk Memorial Playground in October. (Contributed photo.)

By Christine Galeone
Staff Reporter
This holiday season, many people will receive gifts that make them smile. But the best presents are those that will provide enduring joy. Just ask Sarah Baldiga.
“It brings me so much joy to hear back from a foster parent or a social worker that our help made a difference – that because of Rise Above—a child didn’t have to skip the field trip, or miss out on summer camp, or literally sit on the sidelines for a sports tournament,” Sarah Baldiga shared. “But what brings me the most joy is hearing from kids themselves who have told us ‘it was magical’ and ‘you made me happy’ and ‘you fulfilled my dream.’ I am honored to be
able to bring that kind of joy to others.” Baldiga has been receiving those cherished gifts since 2009. That’s when the Upton native co-founded Rise Above, a Northbridge nonprofit that serves Massachusetts foster care kids.
On its website, WeRiseAbove.org, the nonprofit states that it’s “dedicated
to providing Massachusetts children in foster care with enriching activities, opportunities and experiences.” Baldiga, who’s the organization’s executive director, explained that Rise Above accomplishes that mission by “funding individual requests for music lessons, team sports fees, dance lessons, amusement park tickets, prom expenses, bikes, laptops, and more.”
As a teen, Baldiga participated in life-changing Haiti mission trips with St. Gabriel’s Church and knows how badly foster kids need those experiences. She believes they can help kids have some normalcy and begin to heal from abuse or neglect.
Determined to help them, she’s led Rise Above through these challenging times. The nonprofit purchased more than $175,000 in items, such as laptops, basketball hoops and craft kits, to help kids stay connected and healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic. It also partnered with the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families to build a playground at
the DCF Worcester branch. The Mercedes Ramirez-Newkirk Memorial Playground was named in honor of a beloved Rise Above co-founder and was dedicated and opened in October.
In this season of giving, the community can help Rise Above by donating funds to support youth extracurricular activities. And people can help young adults leaving foster care. “We are also currently in great need of Launch Boxes, which are donations of apartment set-up kits for young adults aging out of foster care,” Baldiga noted. “This is a great project for a
group or family. There’s a shopping list and directions on our website, but
each box includes a number of things helpful for youth moving into their
first place, like kitchen utensils, a first aid kit and dishes.