Campus Love: Church partnership creates jobs
Story by Cooper Nelson
GCU News Bureau
Grand Canyon University’s five-point plan to improve the local neighborhood was a Godsend to John Ramos, executive pastor of Love International Ministries, a primarily Hispanic congregation with 3,500 members just a mile east of campus next to the 27th Avenue Office Complex.
For years, Ramos and his father Juan, the head pastor, had wanted to partner with GCU to help the church’s mission of ministering in the surrounding neighborhood and trying to reduce poverty and crime. The elder Ramos moved the bilingual church that had operated in the family’s home to its current location in 1992 to better reach the Hispanic community. Love made an immediate impact, and is now one of the largest Hispanic churches in the country. GCU was an ideal partner to make additional positive changes.
GCU President/CEO Brian Mueller launched his five-point plan last year, which included working to lower crime in the Canyon Corridor and partnering with neighborhood churches to employ local residents in University jobs. The first three employees in that partnership have started working at GCU.
John Ramos said the missions and Christian values of GCU and Love are a good marriage.
“Grand Canyon is a world-class organization and has become not only a partner to us but a friend,” said Ramos, who grew up in the area. “Reaching out to a church to help the local community and hire its members says a lot about the character of GCU and is something you don’t see a lot of universities doing.”
GCU’s assistance so far as been substantial. Michael Valenzuela, who volunteers with Love’s youth outreach, said the crime rate on the church’s campus has nearly disappeared since the University replaced a swap meet with the office complex on 27th Avenue. In an area bordered by Indian School and Bethany Home roads, Interstate 17 to 43rd Avenue, violent crimes have dropped by 31.9 percent, property crimes have decreased 22.3 percent and calls for police service are down 8.9 percent in the first quarter of 2015 compared to last year, according to Phoenix Police Department records.
“We had members’ cars broken into and things stolen from the sanctuary, and all that changed when GCU moved in,” Valenzuela said. “The partnership has been unbelievable so far and we will be forever grateful.”
Five-point plan in action
Dean of Students Pastor Tim Griffin said GCU not only wants to improve the community but also establish partnerships that continue to expand the initiatives. The connection with Love, he said, is at the heart of the plan. Mueller’s five-point plan is proceeding at record speed and has been noticed by the community. The initiative includes:
- Community revitalization: GCU partnered with Christian nonprofit Habitat for Humanity to renovate and repair as many as 700 homes in the neighborhoods around campus. In the first five months of the project, 40 homes have already had work done.
- Neighborhood safety: The University signed a five-year, $1 million partnership with Phoenix Police Department to suppress crime from Indian School to Bethany Home roads and from Interstate 17 to 43rd Avenue.
- STEM: GCU launched the College of Science, Engineering and Technology (CSET) to develop more STEM college graduates and help attract new businesses that rely on having that workforce in place.
- Job creation: On top of employing local residents, the University plans to move employees from the Tempe and Peoria campuses to a new building near the main campus to bolster the local economy.
- K-12 outreach: GCU created the Learning Lounge to tutor students from Alhambra High and other Phoenix schools to improve test scores.
The plan has kick-started a new culture of serving at GCU and demonstrated that the University is serious about making a difference, Griffin said.
“Some of the initiatives are further down the road but we have movement in all areas,” he said. “They’re not designed to do one then move to the next, but rather they’re all simultaneously pushing on all fronts at the same time. It has been great for the University so far.”
Love on campus
Love members Ana Abasta, Leslie Rodriguez and Kayla Fonseca are happy to have positions at GCU.
Fonseca was hired in September as an administrative assistant for Griffin in the Office of Spiritual Life. She moved to Phoenix from San Jose, Calif., in 2006 and has been attending Love for seven years, where she leads college ministry.
Abasta was hired as a tech support specialist in October. She has three children and hopes they will be able to attend GCU. Her oldest son, Marco, is a senior at Metro Tech High, James is a sophomore at North High, and her daughter, Marianna, is about to enter high school. She has attended Love for more than 20 years.
Rodriguez was brought on in February as a landscape maintenance worker in facilities. He plans to transfer next year from Arizona State University to GCU to study music. Rodriguez plays drums and keyboard and manages Love’s three worship bands.
The University plans to hire more Love members for jobs at the GCU Hotel, restaurants and golf course.
GCU has other ties to Love: Jake Page, local and global outreach manager, and College of Theology professor Chip Lamca are members, and Chief University Relations Officer Faith Weese was married there.
“I love that I work at a Christian University where I can live out my faith on a daily basis,” Abasta said. “The program is great for the University, but overall it is great for the people in this area.”
Contact Cooper Nelson at 602-639-7511 or firstname.lastname@example.org.