EVART — As Deb Booher frantically ran around making sure all guests at the Higher Ground event were assisted, she was taken off guard when a group of people suddenly stopped her with a big surprise.

On May 7, Booher was forced to slow down to accept the 2015 Northern Lights Award for Education from the Spectrum Health Foundation Big Rapids and Reed City Hospitals.

"I was shocked," Booher said. "It came at such a busy moment and I only half registered what was going on, but I'm very, very happy and I love that it was at a Higher Ground event."

Higher Ground is a free program to provide families a meal while also building relationships and teaching lessons on many topics such as parenting, nutrition, family literacy, financial fitness, alternatives to anger and faith-based classes.

Participants in the program also get to shop from a store of donated items such as toys, clothing, household items, electronics and more using points accumulated from attending classes. Each program typically runs for six weeks.

"Deb has a passion for people and a real drive to provide opportunities for members of the community to form positive relationships while enhancing the skill sets necessary for success," said Karen Roy, education committee member. "She cares very deeply for her community and is constantly looking for ways to be involved and encouraging others to be part of the solution as well."

Booher has been involved with Higher Ground for 25 sessions.

According to Roy, while working for Love Inc. out of Cadillac, Booher led the development of the Higher Ground program in Osceola County, almost seven years ago. The program in now hosted in Evart and has a regular attendance of more than 100 people each session.

"This program has been instrumental in providing hundreds, if not thousands, of children and adults a strong support network, skills to strengthen their families, and a place to relax, enjoy themselves and be accepted as they are," Roy said.

Although Booher is grateful for the award, she believes her greatest joy is seeing the Higher Ground program grow and change each session.

"People keep reporting great things about the program with comments that they are happier and healthier because of it," Booher said. "It's a good thing for everyone."