Donate to Elevate gives teen a new fork in the road
Story by Laurie Merrill
Photos by Darryl Webb
GCU News Bureau
By the time he was 12, Donovan Welbaum was well on his way to becoming a dope-dealing, skinhead dropout. At age 13, he was shoplifting, snorting crushed pills and smoking two packs of cigarettes a day.
Today, the 15-year-old is leading a completely different life. He’s a sophomore at the Phoenix Christian Preparatory School. He gets good grades, plays the drums for his school’s worship team, has a perfect attendance record and conducts tours as a school ambassador.
This radical change, he said, was made possible by a scholarship through Grand Canyon University’s Donate to Elevate, a giving-back program that enables GCU employees to direct their tax dollars to specific educational and community causes. (Click here to read more about Donate to Elevate.)
“Back before I started coming to this school, I was doing drugs and all this other stuff,” Welbaum said. “I figured, if I go to this school, I want to show them that I wasn’t what they thought I was. I have changed a lot.”
One hobby Welbaum had then and now is skateboarding. He calls himself a serious skateboarder who likes to launch over gaps and stairs — not a “poser,” he said, like college students who use boards as transportation devices. (He currently is saving money for a new skateboard, as his old one snapped in half after a friend borrowed it.)
It was through this passion that Welbaum met up with Skate Park Outreach, a street ministry of the nonprofit Phoenix Dream Center, which serves low-income, homeless and struggling people. The Dream Center is an organization GCU supports and will honor during the Lopes men’s basketball game that is scheduled to tip-off at 7 p.m. Monday.
“I was like, ‘Dude – they have hot dogs, and food, and bagels, and donuts,’ ’’ Welbaum said about Skate Park Outreach.
But it was more than backpacks and snacks. The ministry, he said, was the hand of God reaching down and touching him and offering him a second chance.
The Dream Center’s former youth director, Michael Carroll, who is enrolled at GCU as a Christian Studies major, selected Welbaum to apply for scholarships to Phoenix Christian, the teen said. Attending a private school with a steep tuition had never been an option for Welbaum, who has five half-brothers and half-sisters. He’d previously been enrolled in a number of public schools and had spent many of his younger years moving around the Valley and living with different relatives.
Welbaum was 12 when arguments escalated between his mother, with whom he was living at the time, and her methamphetamine-addicted boyfriend. He turned to smoking pot to escape and was soon dealing Adderall, a stimulant typically prescribed for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and experimenting with hard drugs.
In eighth grade, Welbaum received a scholarship, which was funded by Donate to Elevate, a program in which GCU employees may dedicate their state taxes to three different areas. Taxes may be directed to private schools, to public schools for continuing extracurricular activities or to Habitat for Humanity projects in GCU’s Canyon Corridor.
“What God has done with tax credits is He has flung the doors wide open,” said Jeff Blake, Phoenix Christian’s principal, praising the richness of diversity in the student body that such scholarships produce. “It’s a much more rich reflection of our community and an opportunity to serve.”
Phoenix Christian’s choir is scheduled to sing the national anthem at the GCU men’s basketball game at 7 p.m. today and more than 140 students and staff have been invited to the game.
Welbaum is grateful that God gave him a new fork in the road, and to stay on it, he undergoes voluntary drug testing weekly. He plans to keep his grades up so he can apply for a scholarship at GCU, where he wants to study engineering and counseling.
“Life is so short, we need to embrace life,” he said. “It can be over in a blink of an eye.”
Contact Laurie Merrill at (602) 639-6511 or firstname.lastname@example.org.