The most heartwarming GCU stories of 2019

December 30, 2019 / by / 0 Comment

GCU News Bureau

It’s only natural that heartwarming stories should abound at Grand Canyon University, with so much servant leadership on campus and in the community. Here’s a chance to relive 10 topics from 2019 that went beyond all the regular outreach and touched our hearts a little extra:

Athletic trainer Deborah Storm and men’s volleyball coach Matt Werle present freshman player Camden Gianni (center) with a signed GCU flag.

Jan. 24 – Volleyball player’s life saved at practice

Freshman Camden Gianni was living the dream with his Lopes volleyball team beginning in-season practices. It became a near-death nightmare when he suffered seizures and cardiac arrest during practice at Antelope Gymnasium. Because it happened there, athletic trainer Deborah Storm and special assistant to the head coach Dennis Flowers immediately rendered aid that revived the 19-year-old and led to successful open-heart surgery on Jan. 14 in Los Angeles. GCU Today’s Paul Coro joined Storm and men’s volleyball head coach Matt Werle for their reunion.  

GCU Police Officers Bill Green (left) and Mark Potts 

March 8 – Police officers who fix bicycles

Public safety is more than just safety for GCU Police Officers Mark Potts and Bill Green, who don’t pass up an opportunity to help students. Not only did they start a bicycle registration program on campus, they have reconditioned abandoned bikes and donated them to students — and to nonprofit organizations. They make an air compressor available in the Grove Parking Garage to anyone who needs to fill their tires with air, carry tools with them in case anyone has car or bike trouble, and even have donated tennis rackets and painted faded pingpong tables in Thunder Alley.

Jesse Dalla Riva

April 22 and 26 and May 3 – Jesse Dalla Riva

Of all the commencement stories to come out of GCU in recent years, the transformation of Jesse Dalla Riva probably is the most remarkable. Five years ago, he walked into a detox center determined to get off the streets — and off heroin. Now he’s a husband and father, is a supervisor at the Phoenix Rescue Mission and got his degree, thanks to a GCU scholarship. “He’s just worked so hard for it,” said his wife, Blake, fighting back tears. Our coverage continued with the scene at Jesse’s commencement and the celebration a week later.

Jose Monarrez, a Students Inspiring Students scholarship recipient and a learning advocate (LEAD) in the Learning Lounge, meets two young students on the first day of the new Learning Lounge in the Milwaukee Brewers’ complex.

April 23 and June 25 and July 30 – Brewers Learning Lounge

The new Learning Lounge at the Milwaukee Brewers’ training complex opened, which was cause for celebration in Maryvale. It’s an easy walk for many students from local schools, in particular Borman Elementary next door. “This is really an incredible opportunity for us,” said Borman’s new principal, Sierra McAllister. Subsequent stories included a progress report two months later and the Governor’s Award it earned.

June 14 – A dad’s video

Kevin Scruggs with daughters Mackenzie (left) and Madison

When his daughters, Mackenzie and Madison, headed to school for a new year, Kevin Scruggs knew that someday he would want to see those moments again. So he filmed his daughters on those first days of school, every year — and those videos went viral. They have been viewed by more than 100 million people, and the family’s story was featured on “Good Morning America.” “You get tears. There is a lot wrapped up in that video,” Kevin Scruggs said of his latest montage of younger daughter, Madison, a freshman at GCU (Mackenzie is a GCU graduate). “As a dad, you get to see her life play out in a minute.”

Jerry Colangelo speaks at the first annual Colangelo Servant Leadership Awards ceremony.

Oct. 15 – Colangelo Servant Leadership Awards

The first annual Colangelo Servant Leadership Awards, which were handed out this morning at Canyon 49 Grill, were another chance to celebrate what Jerry Colangelo and GCU are doing in the community. “I love what’s happening at the school, so I find myself saying yes to whatever they want me to help them with,” said iHeart Media Phoenix President Linda Little, one of the award-winners.

Oct. 17, 18, 21 – Online Commencement stories

Many graduates couldn’t have earned their diploma without the support of family members.

Some of them found their way after some wayward times in their younger days. Some are in the later years of life and still accomplishing great things. And some had to overcome incredible present-day challenges. But the online graduates at GCU all seem to have one thing in common: They’re grateful — to their families, to GCU, to God. Over three days of Fall Commencement, we shared their “My LopeLife” stories. Humanities … Business … CSET/Theology/Fine Arts/Education (bachelor’s) … Doctoral … Nursing … Education (master’s)

Lynette Stant 

Oct. 25 – Alumna named Arizona Teacher of the Year

Lynette Stant became the first Native American woman to be named Arizona Teacher of the Year at Arizona Educational Foundation ceremonies in Phoenix. Stant earned her Master’s of Arts in Teaching at GCU in 2006. She stressed being a role model for Native American children and bringing equitable education to rural parts of the state. GCU alums dominated the top 10 in the contest. Three of the five semifinalists are also GCU alums.

Nov. 12 – Izabela Fogarasi

Izabela Fogarasi

It took an impromptu visit to The Gathering on a Tuesday night for junior Izabela Fogarasi to realize that amid all the heartache she felt in coming to the United States from Serbia, God was right by her side the whole time. She was so inspired, she submitted a “My LopeLife” that was chosen for the November issue of GCU Magazine. We think you’ll find it inspiring, too.

Jean Steve Mfuranzima with his wife and daughter 

Dec. 18 – Online graduate from Burundi

Jean Steve Mfuranzima fled Burundi and came to Arizona with only $187 and a suitcase. But after years of work, he graduated from GCU with a master’s degree, just weeks before the birth of his new baby, Anneke. He dedicated the diploma to her. Another story that appeared in the November issue of GCU Magazine.



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