Good Neighbor Club Takes Christmas to Serrano Village
By Zane Ewton
The Good Neighbor Club, along with GCU’s refugee outreach workers, hosted a Christmas party on Wednesday night for the University’s neighbors at Serrano Village. Students provided an apartment full of party food and hit the pavement to sing Christmas carols to residents.
The Good Neighbor Club, formed in the fall of 2010, has become a fixture at Serrano Village, where the residents include more than 550 refugees from at least a dozen countries, including Iraq, Tanzania, Kenya and Bhutan. The complex is about a half-mile east of campus on Camelback Road.
The combination of college students and refugee families can create a culture clash, but Serrano Village’s owner and manager, Georgia Sepic, helps bridge the gap.
Students followed Sepic around the complex as she knocked on doors and pulled families out of their apartments to hear the singing.
“Get on your shoes and get out here,” she said. “These people are going to sing for you.”
Jonathan Sharpe, the Good Neighbor Club adviser and a Christian studies instructor, had to prepare some of the families for what was coming.
In the Bhutanese tradition, families pay people who come to sing songs at their door. Not only did the families not pay, but the singers came bearing gifts. Students presented plates of cookies and a DVD about the life of Jesus, translated into about a dozen languages, to each family.
“You never know what you are going to get with a refugee party,” Sharpe says. “People show up when they show up.”
When they do show up, expect to spend some time. Sharpe says what could be a quick visit with a family often turns into hours, and he has found himself running late back to campus because the families enjoy the fellowship.
It makes for an interesting experience to watch students sing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” to a family of refugees unfamiliar with Christmas traditions. In some cases, the families do not know much about America beyond the Serrano Village gates.
Alejandra Valenzuela is a sophomore healthcare administration major and president of the Good Neighbor club. She raves about the experience the club has had in getting to know the residents. The club’s current focus has been to reach out to teenagers and take them to destinations around Phoenix.
GCU students Luis Rivera and Andrew Frank moved into Serrano Village at the beginning of the semester and hosted the party.
Rivera, a business administration major, leads a refugee outreach ministry and thought it was natural to live among those he was working with. He says the community has welcomed them, but that doesn’t mean it has been easy.
“It’s been quite a culture shock moving here,” he says. “But why move to another country when we have so many people coming to our country?”
Frank, a Christian studies major, says it is often tough to spend the day in the GCU environment and come home to Serrano, where many of the children lack for clothes. It has helped the roommates appreciate what they have.
“The kids have so much joy despite having no clothes and no toys,” Rivera says. “After a long day at school or work, you come home and see them and you realize what’s really important.”
Sharpe says he hopes to get more students involved in the club who are willing to teach ESL at Serrano. A waiting list of refugees is ready to take the course, but there aren’t enough teachers to meet the demand.
“It only takes an hour a week, and it is a genuine gift we can give someone,” Sharpe says. “They want to learn English, and it can open so many doors for themselves and their families.”
For more information on the Good Neighbor Club and Serrano Village, contact Jonathan Sharpe at 639.6746 or [email protected].
Contact Zane Ewton at 602.639.7086 or [email protected].