GCU employees pledge $1.5 million to Donate to Elevate program
By Laurie Merrill
GCU News Bureau
The three Sahagun sisters had to swallow some bitter truths after their mother died and their father was incarcerated in 2011.
It wasn’t just the weight of grief or the empty space no longer occupied by their parents. It wasn’t just the abrupt turn in circumstances or the vast world they now navigated on their own. It was all of that, and more.
But one thing they didn’t have to face was finding a new school for Samantha, then 10, and Alexis, 14.
Thanks to employee-giving programs such as Grand Canyon University’s Donate to Elevate, the siblings were able to attend Bourgade Catholic High School in Phoenix, the same excellent school from which their oldest sister, Karina, graduated.
“We were already going through a drastic change of not having our parents,” Karina recalled. “Changing schools would have been too much.”
The Sahagun sisters are just a few of the hundreds of students every year who receive scholarships funded by Donate to Elevate.
The GCU campaign directs state tax dollars to specific programs, such as Habitat for Humanity and private school tuition, with no reduction in take-home pay.
As the program marked its fourth year in 2016, it set the highest employee pledge goal — $1.5 million — to date.
That goal was met in three months, by March 28, said Randy Bellah, GCU’s director of academic alliances support.
Last year, GCU employees pledged more than $735,000 to the school option, paving the way for 520 full and partial scholarships to students at 80 private schools, Bellah said.
This year, the numbers are even higher, with more than $1 million pledged to the school choice and at least $400,000 pledged to Habitat for Humanity, he said.
“This is a program that is accelerating exponentially,” Bellah said.
Cassandra Jarles, assistant director of resource development and faith relations for Habitat for Humanity Central Arizona, said generous donations from GCU employees have helped more than 55 families.
“It has been a tremendous boost,” Jarles said. “These dollars are speaking volumes in the community. … And it’s a help up, not a hand out.”
One of the homeowners Habitat for Humanity helped was Nancy Medina, who at first didn’t believe that volunteers were giving her house a spiff-up-and-paint job. The old paint was peeling from the four-bedroom dwelling on Marshall Avenue near 33rd Avenue that she shares with her husband and three children.
“I was surprised,” Medina said. “Now they’re even going to replace the windows.”
Karina Sahagun’s mother wanted her daughters to get a private education and focus more on their faith. She hoped they would graduate from Bourgade, Karina said.
In 2011, Sahagun achieved that goal and was awarded an ample scholarship from the University of Arizona. But her plans changed when her parents suddenly were gone.
“I came straight home and adopted my sisters,” said Karina, who had just turned 18.
She is studying in an online program to prepare for a career in the FBI, CIA or as a homicide detective. She also runs a before and after school program of 180 students as a Phoenix peer lead.
Her sister Alexis, who also graduated from Bourgade, is now attending St. Mary’s College in South Bend, Ind. Samantha, the youngest, is a freshman at Bourgade.
“Since 2011, it has been just my sisters and me,” Karina said. “Scholarships, family members and school support — that is the only way I have been able to keep my sisters in high school.”
Bellah said the outpouring of support from both GCU employees and the University provides a rich opportunity to experience the joy of giving.
“It states in Mark 12:31 how important it is to ‘love thy neighbor as thyself.’ What a joy it’s been to be able to participate, along with so many others, in something that is truly impacting our neighbors so significantly,” Bellah said. “It really can’t get any better than that.”
Contact Laurie Merrill at (602) 639-6511 or @firstname.lastname@example.org.