By Lana Sweeten-Shults
GCU News Bureau
Attending private school never was in the realm of possibility for Michael McKenney. He grew up in a trailer park in Michigan, and private school or college or a life beyond the boundaries of that trailer park were far-flung ideas in far-away places.
The movie “8 Mile,” set in inner urban Detroit, sums up his formative school years, he said.
“I grew up in a place where most kids didn’t even complete high school, so it was a big leap mentally,” said McKenney, Grand Canyon University Assistant Professor and Clinical Coordinator of the Athletic Training Education Program for the College of Nursing and Health Care Professions.
So when McKenney and his wife, Cristina, thought about their own children’s education, they wanted something different for them. They wanted to turn the impossible to something possible, even though they knew the cost of private school would be a barrier.
“A few years ago, I didn’t even consider sending my son to a private Christian school, but a friend challenged me to not limit what God wanted,” said McKenney, who outside of GCU has served as a sports medicine volunteer for the U.S. Olympic Committee.
McKenney accepted that challenge.
He turned to his colleagues and workplace-giving program Allocate to Elevate, and what was once far away and far-flung no longer was.
The initiative takes what GCU and Grand Canyon Education employees otherwise would pay into state taxes and diverts them to Habitat for Humanity (for the renovation of homes in the communities near GCU), public school extracurricular programs (such as art or athletic programs) or School Choice Arizona so parents, such as McKenney, can afford to send their children to private Christian schools.
It was in 2013 that the University unveiled Allocate to Elevate, then called Donate to Elevate, which is funded through the Arizona Charitable Tax Credit. That first year, employees redirected $218,000 of their tax dollars, and as the University has grown, so has that annual goal.
Organizers recently announced a bold $3.2 million pledge goal for the 2020-21 giving season.
Sheila Jones, K12 Educational Development Program Director and the Allocate to Elevate coordinator, doesn’t doubt that the campus community will do everything it can to reach that goal, as it does every year.
In 2019-20, in the midst of a global pandemic, uncertainty and economic challenges, employees exceeded more than $3.1 million of contributions.
“GCU and GCE did such a good job on the front end (before the pandemic),” to reach that number, said Jones.
The beauty of the program: “It doesn’t cost a dime,” she said. “It won’t affect your paycheck.”
Employees are simply telling the state how they want their tax dollars spent.
“The program is so easy,” McKenney added. “It literally takes 2 minutes to fill out a form.”
Taking that initiative has been life-affirming for the McKenneys, who are thankful to have a choice of where they send their children to school.
Gabriel, 16, attends Arizona Lutheran Academy, and daughter Domenica, 13, is at Emmanuel Lutheran.
“It’s a blessing to allow our son to go to a school where like-minded individuals want to provide education through the lens of truth with a biblical viewpoint.”
Tuition for Gabriel’s junior year is covered, with a majority of the funds coming from Allocate to Elevate.
McKenney said it wasn’t easy to ask co-workers for help: “It requires humility to go to your colleagues,” he said.
But so many of them were overjoyed to do so.
“It’s been so worth it,” he said. “What’s interesting is that sending our son to this school has been more than we ever imagined. … It’s actually our family becoming part of a community.”
McKenney volunteers at his son’s high school as its Performance Enhancement Coach. He also serves as the school’s athletic trainer “to help out and give back.”
Being at his son’s school also has allowed him to get to know his son’s friends and, ultimately, strengthen the bonds of his own family.
And because his own family saw the graciousness of others, it inspired McKenney and his family to do the same. He and his wife have been rerouting their tax dollars to help another colleague’s child attend private Christian school through Allocate to Elevate.
“We find just as much joy being a participant,” said McKenney, who added how GCU has been blessed, even during the pandemic.
“This is an opportunity to be intentional with that (those blessings),” he said, “and serve God’s kingdom.”
For more information about Allocate to Elevate: firstname.lastname@example.org or 602-247-4000.
Senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults can be reached at email@example.com or at 602-639-7901.
GCU Today: Allocate funds by April 15 for tax credit