GCU is an open book in its home-schooler support
By Lana Sweeten-Shults
GCU News Bureau
It might not seem as if something as simple as a book sale could turn the page on someone’s life.
Carol Gary knows better.
It was at the New and Used Curriculum Sale, hosted by the Arizona State Ambassador Team for HSLDA Compassion, that Gary met a mom who loaded up on more than five boxes — $130 worth — of books, workbooks and other educational material for her six children as she prepared to home-school them at the outset of the new academic year.
It was a treasure trove for the mom. But what happened to her at the recent sale, held Aug. 8 at Phoenix’s Desert Hills Bible Church, might have been the bigger treasure.
She shared that her husband had been unemployed since December, and things weren’t looking up for her family, whose benefits were running out soon.
“When we learned about her situation, we talked with her, letting her know that we understood that she and her family were having a hard time this year,” said Gary, the outgoing Arizona State Ambassador for HSLDA Compassion, the charitable arm for the Home School Legal Defense Association, an organization that advocates for the freedom to home-school.
Organizers also let her know they were gifting her those more than five boxes of educational material.
“There were lot of tears – lots of happy tears,” said Gary, a Grand Canyon University alumna – she received her bachelor’s degree in 1990 and master’s in 1998 from GCU — who also is an adjunct faculty member of the Colangelo College of Business.
Those kinds of stories are what make the sale so important to home-schooling families – and to GCU, too, whose K12 Educational Development Department is a flagship sponsor of the event and a big supporter of the home-schooling community.
“We are always working to find those critical connections and partnerships to help us reach out even more in service to our local K12 community,” said Dr. Tacy Ashby, Senior Vice President of K12 Educational Development. “The recent challenges posed by COVID-19 have caused us to pivot a bit, but we have never wavered in our support of educators, including those in our home-schooling community.”
It was Gary who connected HSLDA Compassion with GCU; she knew her alma mater’s heart for serving the community and for supporting education.
While she remembers GCU as being a different organism when she was a student as far as its size and community reach, “the department under Dr. Ashby that works closely with the home-schooling community – that has continued to intensify. Over recent years, GCU has become more interested in courting and accommodating the home-schooling community,” Gary said.
“It (HSLDA Compassion) is just such a wonderful group to be connected with,” said Sheila Jones, Director of Homeschool in K12 Educational Development. “They have really stepped up to nurture and support new home-schooling families.”
The annual sale was in its eighth year, and it isn’t quite like any other book sale.
Instead of concentrating on cookbooks, comics or what normally would be found at a typical book sale, organizers focus on curriculum that home-schooling families are no longer using, such as reference books, primers, workbooks, nonperishable science supplies, musical instruments and the like.
“The sale gets more life out of it (donated curriculum) in a more meaningful way than it would if it just got donated and then maybe put in a pile to be recycled,” Gary said.
While the organization will receive a call on occasion from a Christian school that may be closing and wants to donate curriculum, “it’s almost always exclusively home-schooling families donating back their items to benefit other home-schooling families,” Gary said.
Those families love the idea of those donated materials going to others like them that know and appreciate the items, she added. They also know how important those types of educational materials are – and how they can challenge a family’s budget.
“People line up at the crack of dawn to get there,” Jones said of the popularity of the sale, which was held on the GCU campus one year.
Many home-schooling families are single-income families, Jones pointed out. Oftentimes, one parent works and the other educates their children at home.
“Very rarely do they have two full incomes,” Gary said.
The sale helps families absorb those expenses, with an estimated 200-250 families benefiting from the recent event.
Proceeds from the sale go to the Arizona State Ambassador Fund, which helps families continue to home-school through hard times. The fund has directly helped more than 135 families in the state since 2013.
“This year is quite unique because everybody’s struggling in some way with COVID,” Gary said.
Gary, the author of “The Balanced Homeschooler,” has home-schooled her own children, including son Jonathan, who will begin his freshman year at GCU in the fall. He will be studying business analytics. Another son, Simon, also is hoping to become a Lope once he finishes his home-schooling.
And she has another connection to GCU: Her family sponsors the Evan C. Gary Memorial Scholarship, created to honor the life of her and husband Grant‘s oldest son, Evan. Evan was a home-schooled student who passed away at age 14 from an aggressive form of leukemia. The scholarship is awarded to a home-school educated youth who wants to study engineering, science or pre-medicine at GCU.
The Garys, who are season basketball ticket-holders, also have participated in the Run to Fight Children’s Cancer, a 5K and 10K run started by the GCU Foundation that now is solely operated by community partner Children’s Cancer Network. The run called GCU home until this year, the first year it became an off-campus event.
It was through Run to Fight that Gary said her family became connected to HSLDA, “so lots of fingers entangled with everything,” she said of this one event.
“There’s just such interconnectivity as a home-schooler. It’s that interconnectivity of being able to do life where you’re planted and not be beholden to be in any one spot — to have that be something that’s somewhat ‘normal’ when everything else is chaotic.”
While COVID-19 has put so many things on hold for GCU, including how it is able to participate in community and charitable efforts, the University still finds ways to stay connected and be involved, including with the home-school community.
“We appreciate organizations like HSLDA Compassion and Run to Fight and GCU’s heart for all these things,” Gary said.
GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-7901.
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