Men's basketball home games devoted to charity

By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau

Every men’s basketball game at newly expanded Grand Canyon University this season will be a special event — in more ways than one.

For the first time, every game will be tied to a cause or an event or both. It’s all part of giving back to the community, starting with Military Appreciation Night for the exhibition game against Western New Mexico on Thursday.

“Serving the community is a big part of who we are as a University,” said Brian Mueller, GCU’s president and CEO. “And what better way to do that than to take our most high-profile sport and use that spotlight to bring awareness and raise money for some really vital organizations in our community.”

It has been an interesting evolution to giving every game a purpose that goes beyond basketball. GCU's Dean of Students Pastor Tim Griffin said it grew from talks University officials were having with various charitable organizations. The more they talked, the more they learned about new initiatives, some of which they shared … or wanted to share.

“Once we hooked up with those organizations devoted to the greater good, it exponentially exploded,” Griffin said. “This is like a draft pick — whom do we want to pick to be on our team? Who is in step with what GCU is all about? Sometimes they want to be part of what we do, and other times we’re calling them and saying, ‘Hey, we want to get on board with what you’re doing.’

“Things started in a variety of ways. It’s kind of fun to see how each one turns into something unique.”

The first special game night last season with a local organization benefitted the Phoenix Dream Center. The University also had games honoring the military and alumni, but Griffin said it quickly became obvious that there were plenty of charities to fill the schedule. This season, GCU will contribute more than $100,000 to these groups in addition to giving them special treatment at the games.

“I think one of the big aspects is the opportunity to partner with some great organizations,” Griffin said. “To be a good neighbor means we want to collaborate with organizations in the surrounding area. We want to be a good citizen of the neighborhood.”

For Thursday’s game, GCU is partnering with the local nonprofit Packages from Home, which started when Kathleen Lewis sent packages overseas to her son Christian after he was deployed to Iraq in 2004. Other members of his unit weren’t getting anything like that, so when Christian told his mom she started sending all of them packages and eventually founded the organization. You can learn more about it here.

Packages from Home will bring more than 15 volunteers to the game, and fans are asked to bring hygiene essentials for packages to be shipped to soldiers. There also will be a “Letters to Troops” station at which fans are encouraged to write letters or draw pictures that will be sent overseas. More than 200 military members and their families have been invited to the game.

But that’s only the start of what will be a seasonlong initiative. Here is the rest of the home basketball schedule with the opponent, the organizations that will benefit and what special events, if any, are scheduled (subject to change).

Nov. 17, Montana State: SWAG and Valley Lutheran (Students With Aspiring Goals — SWAG — is made up of more than 350 middle school and high school teens who have shown exemplary efforts  in their schooling and community service. The Peoria Police Department started the non-profit and will provide a pizza party and a police escort, and there will be a military flyover at 5:30 p.m.)

Nov. 20, Texas-Arlington: Foster Care and Adoption Awareness (Partnership with Arizona Foster Care Initiative, Arizona’s Office of Faith and Community, Children’s Heart Gallery, Arizona Friends of Foster Children Foundation and City of Grace to raise awareness and educate fans about the opportunities surrounding adoption and foster care in Arizona.)

Nov. 21, Florida A&M: Boy Scouts/Alhambra Schools (About 700 Boy Scouts and their families will meet on campus before the game and hear from GCU Head Coach Dan Majerle about the importance of teamwork, then will have a pizza party on the Intramural Field.)

Nov. 25, Buffalo: Phoenix Dream Center (GCU has partnered with the Dream Center and Phoenix First Assembly, which is expected to bring more than 1,000 members for a night that will raise funds for the center, which helps at-risk youth.)

Dec. 6, Great Falls (Mont.): Young Life (More than 200 members of Arizona Young Life will get pregame pizza and tickets to the game.)

Dec. 9, Idaho State: Nurse Appreciation (More than 300 nurses from around the Valley and GCU nursing students will get free tickets and will be honored for what they do.)

Dec. 15, Bethune-Cookman: Habitat for Humanity (To celebrate the kickoff of the partnership between GCU and Habitat, beams of wood for new home builds in 2015 will be signed and fans will have an opportunity to sign up for Habitat projects.)

Dec. 17, Incarnate Word: HopeFest (CityServe Arizona volunteers will be on hand to spread the word about HopeFest Phoenix, an annual event that brings the community together to help meet the needs of uninsured, underinsured and underserved.)

Dec. 20, St. Edward's: Feed My Starving Children (Nonprofit Christian organization ships meals overseas, and volunteers will get a chance to put some of those meals together.)

Dec. 23, New Mexico: Staff Christmas party on the Quad, 4 p.m. (Food from Bobby-Q!)

Dec. 28, Abilene Christian: Love International Church (Church members will go to the game, and there's a Lincoln Brewster concert after the game on the Quad.)

Dec. 30, Harvard: Phoenix Rescue Mission (Volunteers from the mission get free tickets.)

Jan. 4, UC Riverside: Youth Group Night — HopeKids (More than 500 kids from churches across the Valley, 300 of them members of HopeKids, will get T-shirts and sit together as a group for the game and then enjoy a MercyMe concert on the Quad.)

Jan. 10, Cal State Bakersfield: Girl Scouts (More than 1,000 Girl Scouts will be invited to arrive early and attend a "backstage presentation" by an event planner in the concert industry, and the top scouts will get to shadow event-management personnel and perform tasks. Of course, Girl Scout cookies will be sold, too.)

Jan. 29, Kansas City: Student workers

Jan. 31, Chicago State: Muscular Dystrophy Association (Personnel and volunteers from the organization will be on hand to increase awareness about muscular dystrophy.) 

Feb. 14, Utah Valley: Homecoming

Feb. 19, Texas-Pan American: Goodwill Industries (More than 1,000 members of the Goodwill community will be invited.)

Feb. 21, New Mexico State: Elevate Phoenix (GCU is partnering with this nonprofit group to publicize what it does for at-risk youth.) 

March 7, Seattle: Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Little Leagues (FCA members and more than 300 Little Leaguers will be recognized for their good sportsmanship and for being good role models.)

Contact Rick Vacek at 602-639-8203 or [email protected].


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