Students Serve the City at Christian Recovery House, Catholic Monastery
By Michael Ferraresi
GCU News Bureau
Photos by Jak Keyser
A five-foot wooden crucifix loomed from a corner of the pool patio where a team of GCU students power-washed dirt off the surface.
Dozens more students, many wearing purple shirts, fanned out Saturday morning to paint walls and door frames three stories high around the pool at the complex converted years ago from a blighted Embassy Suites motel into a Christian recovery house.
The cleanup as part of GCU’s Serve the City community outreach involved nearly 300 students whose spirit of volunteerism likely benefited hundreds of the University’s less-fortunate west Phoenix neighbors. Students also cleared brush from several acres of grounds at Our Lady of Guadalupe Monastery, a hub of community activism run by a team of four Catholic sisters from the order of St. Benedict.
Most of the student volunteers, including the GCU men’s and women’s basketball teams, settled at the Phoenix Dream Center. The previously run-down motel south of Indian School Road on Grand Avenue houses 300 residents recovering from years of heavy drug use, prostitution and crimes that landed many in prison.
Jeanette Montenegro, 20, a sophomore Spiritual Life leader, accidentally dropped paint on her clothes at one point at the Dream Center. But she paused and reminded herself, as chilly winds whipped through the complex, about the focus of her Saturday morning.
“I remembered this is for God and this is for other people,” Montenegro said. “If they tried to do it themselves, they wouldn’t have the same impact.”
With only five full-time staff and about 100 busy volunteers, maintenance at the Dream Center is limited. The center’s volunteers serve around 40,000 people each month, including those on outreach and rescue runs into some of the darkest corners of Phoenix. Saturday’s work amounted to about $180,000, according to Dean of Students Pastor Tim Griffin.
Kathie Gadberry, chief development officer for the Dream Center, described the center’s 15-month Life Recovery School as the cornerstone for residents developing their faith in God and weaning themselves off drugs. The program teaches residents to transcend “life-controlling issues” that include serious sexual abuse, depression and broken families.
Many Dream Center residents who progress through the residential program earn jobs and added responsibilities.
“When they come here, they’re so broken and they haven’t felt love in a long time,” Gadberry said. “People accept that and they feel appreciated.”
Dream Center resident Carl Swift most recently served more than two years in the Arizona Department of Corrections following a drug conviction. He said he fought the law for nearly 20 years and abused drugs for most of his adult life.
“I had about eight strikes,” said Swift, 60. “They were going to bury me. I spoke out to God and told Him, ‘Do something here and I’ll serve you for the rest of my life.’”
In the Dream Center, he found a home to recover and connect with God. After one year, he now works as an assistant to the center’s pastors and hopes to become a pastor to minister to people struggling through life on the streets.
Jacob Page, GCU’s global outreach director, said some students volunteer weekly at the Dream Center. He added that the University’s Spiritual Life office plans to grow its relationship with the recovery program to impact the lives of the program’s rescued residents and to encourage students to go beyond volunteering for a few hours each semester through Serve the City.
Fewer students worked Saturday at Our Lady of Guadalupe, although the cleanup carried a major impact for Sister Linda Campbell, one of four independent Benedictine sisters who run the monastery on a seven-acre property near Thomas Road and 83rd Avenue.
The sisters run a discount thrift shop and organic community garden, which clothe and feed the less fortunate. Members of GCU’s men’s soccer team helped clear fronds from massive palm trees around the monastery, while other students cleared debris around the garden.
“The most exciting thing to me is to see young people so interested in community service, and to see them value this as part of a lifelong peace,” Campbell said.
Contact Michael Ferraresi at 639.7030 or [email protected].