Alumni step up to support youth through Elevate Phoenix
By Janie Magruder
GCU News Bureau
Kea Goode’s mother died when she was 5 and her father never was part of her life, so she knows better than some the importance of teachers and other mentors to a young person. Their influence in her own life helped the 2012 GCU alumna find her purpose in the classroom.
“I want to be that same positive influence in the lives of my students,” said Goode, who works for the nonprofit Elevate Phoenix. “I know what it’s like to feel alone and discouraged. If I can be a beacon of hope for just one of my girls, then I’ve successfully done my job.”
The 27-year-old Phoenix native is among 10 teacher-mentors employed by Elevate Phoenix to teach peer leadership to students in the Phoenix Union High School District. At Cesar Chavez High in southwest Phoenix, Goode and fellow alum Raul Saenz co-teach good character, habits and life skills to classes of about 30 young women and men at a time.
Goode and Saenz also teach the students how to teach their own leadership lessons each week at a nearby elementary school.
“I love the interaction with the kids,” said Goode, who has a B.S. in psychology. “We teach them to be proactive, to take responsibility for your life, to know that you can’t always control things that happen to you but that you can control how you react and not become a victim.”
Tim Cleary, Elevate Phoenix’s executive director, said GCU produces outstanding, workplace-ready graduates who demonstrate passion for education, people and excellence, just as the University does.
“At Elevate Phoenix we looked to build for the future with outstanding hires by shopping at GCU,” he said. “Raul Saenz and Kea Goode were just who we needed to help us develop long-term, life-changing relationships with urban youth in the public schools we serve in Phoenix.”
In addition to classroom learning, an estimated 4,500 students in Phoenix receive after-school tutoring in topics such as mentoring, post-secondary preparation and literacy improvement, and they experience community-service and fun activities through Elevate Phoenix. According to the organization’s statistics, 98 percent of students who take the program graduate from high school.
Saenz, 25, who also graduated from GCU in 2012 and has a degree in Christian studies, said Elevate Phoenix gives its employees the freedom to bring their individual teaching and mentoring styles into the classroom and outside it, too.
“We wear many hats, and there’s a balance — we are teachers, but once the bell rings, we’re mentors to the same students,” he said.
On any given day, they teach “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teenagers,” using Sean Covey’s international bestseller as a guide, and may help students practice their speech and professionalism in preparation for a visit to the classroom by an Elevate Phoenix donor.
“It’s doing life with them or walking alongside them and helping them grow,” Saenz said. “We see a lot of growth in our students who have been in our class for one year compared to those who have been there for three years. We also build relationships with parents, and they trust us to be there when they’re making big decisions about (their child) being ready for college or moving out on their own.”
Goode found her passion for youth when she was invited to a Young Life event and eventually gave her life to Christ while she was in high school. Through Young Life’s leadership program, she determined that ministry was where she belonged.
Following a detour through community college, Goode became a GCU student in 2010. Campus construction was just beginning — new dorms, Thunder Alley and the Student Recreation Center were being developed — and Goode felt like a “pioneer Lope preparing the way for the up-and-coming student body.”
She loved the small campus feel, generally, and Chapel, specifically.
“There were so many times where I felt as if I had nothing else to offer,” Goode said. “Going to Chapel restored and gave me strength that I did not know that I had.”
While at GCU she landed a position with the city of Phoenix’s Project BRAVE (Bringing Reality About Violence Education), which develops interactive educational events for at-risk youth, and she saw how much she enjoyed being in the classroom. Soon after, she met Cleary and was offered a job.
“I remember my senior year (in high school) being dreadful because I felt so lost and confused when it came to the whole college process. I took out unnecessary loans, enrolled in classes that I did not need and I missed all sorts of deadlines,” Goode said. “Teaching these students life skills and character qualities not only ensures they won’t go through some of the trouble that I went through, it helps them to build a foundation that they can stand on for life.”
Last January, Goode and Saenz helped start a Young Life group at Cesar Chavez, which, for some students, “is their first time being exposed to the Gospel,” she said.
Saenz was GCU’s first Servant Scholar graduate, having received a scholarship for excelling as a Christian leader in his Phoenix community. He said he was fortunate to be mentored by older students at his high school, and he learned at GCU that he could do the same for others.
“GCU has helped me in so many ways,” he said. “Through my time at GCU my faith grew like never before. I learned about community, accountability and responsibility. My classes challenged me and really made me question what I wanted to do with my life. But through that tough questioning it made my mission much clearer.”
Saenz had an especially tough time as a GCU senior because of some terrible events in his personal life. He credited his GCU community with being there for him.
“I learned a lot about God that year, and my perspective on our relationship changed in an awesome way,” he said. “Those trials, my community, the excellent people who attended GCU, my wise teachers all played a major role in shaping who I am today.”
Saenz carries that excellence and vision into his classroom at Cesar Chavez each day.
“I believe that building relationships with my students gives me the best advantage to being an effective teacher,” he said. “I also believe in being holistic. If we help students with issues outside of school — hunger, financial, spiritual — or point them to where they can get these resources, they become much more receptive to us and it helps them focus academically as well.”
When she’s not busy teaching students, Goode enjoys kickboxing, Cage Fitness and Zumba in addition to hanging out with her Yorkshire terrier, Princess. Saenz is a reader (“Just Walk Across the Room” by Bill Hybels and “Start: Punch Fear in the Face, Escape Average and Do Work that Matters” by Jon Acuff are among his recent favorites) who also owns two big dogs, Eli, a mastiff, and Theo, a yellow Labrador.
Contact Janie Magruder at 602-639-8018 or [email protected].
Elevate Phoenix is among the charitable organizations that GCU has chosen to support at home men’s basketball games this season. Its night is Feb. 21, when GCU will play New Mexico State, and the Cesar Chavez High School choir is scheduled to sing the national anthem.