Serve the City boosts up-and-coming neighborhood
Story by Rick Vacek
Photos by Gillian Rea
GCU News Bureau
Most students finish off their four years of college and are ready to move on. Thanks for the memories, they say, but it’s time to go out into the world, preferably elsewhere.
Things are decidedly different at Grand Canyon University, where large numbers of students become so attached to 33rd Avenue and Camelback Road, they can’t bear to leave. They become part-time employees of the University during their time on campus and then convert to full-time after commencement.
But Nick Monte has taken it a few steps further. The 2016 graduate is working as a university counselor for the College of Doctoral Studies, and he’s getting his master’s and not paying a dime for tuition thanks to that employee benefit. Oh, and one other thing …
He bought a home in the neighborhood a year and a half ago. He lives right across the street on Camelback.
Sure makes for a nice commute.
But it makes for a nice living arrangement, too.
“I wanted to be close to GCU,” Monte said. “I wanted to still be a part of the community. I loved it here. I wasn’t ready to leave yet. I’m still not ready to leave. I don’t think I’ll ever be ready to leave. I just love being part of GCU.
“I take my dog and walk him through the Canyon Corridor every morning. I go to the gym over at campus (27th Avenue Fitness Center). I try to spend as much time here as I can. I love it. It’s just awesome. I have everything I need, and it’s a great place to live.”
And because he has property nearby, he was able to take advantage of GCU’s partnership with Habitat for Humanity Central Arizona, whereby renovations are completed for 30% of the cost of the materials and with no charge for labor.
That labor is GCU students, and about 300 of them — along with GCU President Brian Mueller and Dr. Tim Griffin, Pastor and Dean of Students — were painting and landscaping Saturday at 12 Canyon Corridor locations for the twice-a-year Serve the City celebration of community contributions.
Monte knows what that’s all about. He has done Habitat projects himself. He knows how it becomes one more way students connect with the University.
“Everybody you meet here wants to stay. I’ve never seen anything like that,” he said. “At other places they’re ready to jump ship, but when people graduate from GCU, they don’t want to go anywhere, in part because of this. … When I started here you couldn’t walk down the street, and it was even worse before I got here, from what I heard. (But) I sleep fine at night because it feels like a safe place to live.”
Over on the other side of the University, across 35th Avenue from GCU Ballpark, Donna Kerwin was expressing similar sentiments even though she was meeting GCU students for the first time.
The safety factor is important for her, too. She lives alone with her dog and is thankful for the nightly illumination of her street thanks to the ballpark’s light towers. But she also has seen the difference being made by the partnership with the Phoenix Police Department.
“This neighborhood has come up over the years,” said Kerwin, who has lived there since 2002. “It used to be horrible. I used to go to bed at night and hear gunshots, but not anymore.”
Kerwin didn’t know about the Habitat program until she received a postcard in the mail asking if she wanted to utilize it. That was her first surprise. The second one occurred Saturday morning when the GCU students descended on her house.
“Wow. They are so nice and so friendly and so devoted and so helpful,” said Kerwin, who works for the Department of Education office in downtown Phoenix. “I didn’t expect this. They said, ‘Donna, come out and meet the crew,’ and I said, ‘Oh my goodness.’ They’re absolutely wonderful.”
Kerwin saw another benefit to the program: The homeowners are required to pay in with some sweat equity, and she spent hours preparing her house for what was to come.
“It’s been a heck of a workout,” she said. “I lost seven pounds and got in shape. My doctor will be very surprised.”
Also getting her first look at the students’ work was Stephanie Mellring, who came on board as a Habitat volunteer in February. She was the site host at Kerwin’s home and stayed to help supervise the painting.
“It’s awesome to have these kids out here,” said Mellring, a youth and teen coordinator at the Peoria community center. “In the end, my personal opinion is that we’ve all got to take care of each other, and this is the best way to do it. These young kids get a chance to see how they’re helping somebody else.
“And it’s neat to be able to help the kids learn. I never learned how to do this kind of stuff when I was a kid.”
This was the 10th Serve the City in which GCU and Habitat teamed up, and both parties are thankful for a partnership that had facilitated 606 renovations on 263 homes before Saturday.
For GCU, it gives the University a focused program in its neighborhood revitalization efforts.
And for Habitat …
“This partnership, it’s a blessing,” said Jason Barlow, President and CEO of Habitat for Humanity Central Arizona. “It’s another case of God dropping an opportunity in our laps. And when you think about how it’s being funded with the Arizona tax credit, it’s not costing anybody anything.”
But the benefits don’t stop there. Barlow wasn’t forgetting what it does for the GCU students as well.
“Probably some of them are going to have friends at the end of this day,” he said. “They’re going to know these families. They’re going to hear their stories. They’re probably going to be invited over for dinner – you don’t know.
“This is the way this university imprints his values and itself on the community. It’s this purple wave of excitement and energy that’s expanded out – it’s really amazing.”
And now there are students, such as Nick Monte, expanding out into that community as homeowners while also working for GCU.
“I can’t think of a single time I walked away from work frustrated or upset with the way my day went,” he said. “If I go into work frustrated or upset, I know my mood’s going to turn around once I get there. You can’t beat it. You really can’t.”
Monte’s girlfriend, Dallas Chrisman, graduated from GCU in April and works for Grand Canyon Education as a field experience counselor for the nursing program. She talked about what GCU did for her while she was an undergraduate and added a simple question:
Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or [email protected].