By Lana Sweeten-Shults
GCU News Bureau
Grand Canyon Education Regional Director of Operations Luke Hansen and his wife, Stephanie, knew they wanted their children to be educated in a Christian school.
But, like many families, they didn’t know how they would pay for it.
Hansen himself attended Christian school until sixth grade. His wife also was educated in Christian schools, but her family struggled to pay the tuition.
"It really hurt them," Hansen said of the financial burden on her family.
Still, despite facing the same kind of strain to their pocketbook, he and his wife were determined that their children would be educated where they chose. "We're a Christian family. ... We want them in Christian school so the foundation is set with what they're getting at home," Hansen said.
When he shared the good news with his co-workers about how excited his family was for his oldest son, Lincoln, to be starting kindergarten at Arrowhead Christian School, he didn’t think much more about it.
“I started paying out of pocket for the tuition and just assumed I would have to find a way to afford it,” Hansen said. “Then, around a month into his new school, I got a statement. I was floored to find out that a third of his entire school year tuition had come in! I had to ask the finance lady at the school if this was a mistake.”
Hansen’s peers at GCE and Grand Canyon University stepped up for his family through the employee-giving program, Donate to Elevate, which this year announced a record $2.95 million in contributions. They directed the state to funnel what they would pay into their state taxes to his son to help pay for tuition at his new school (he'll be headed to Northwest Christian School in the fall for first grade).
This year's campaign isn't over, since employees still can pledge through the end of September (click here to participate). That $2.95 million in contributions topped the $2.8 million goal.
Hansen heard about the GCU/GCE initiative but was unsure his family might actually benefit from it.
“Would the funds truly go to my son if people added his name to the form?” he asked. “However, I also viewed it as a potential sign God had sent that it could be a way for us to send him to the Christian school we wanted him in.”
Through Donate to Elevate, employees can divert what they would pay into state taxes to School Choice Arizona to help families pay for tuition to private, Christian schools.
They also may pledge to Habitat for Humanity -- GCU signed the largest contract in the world with Habitat to renovate homes in the Canyon Corridor.
Then there's a third option: to support public/charter school extracurricular programs, such as the arts, after-school tutoring or athletics programs. Two schools employees have been asked to consider are campuses that have established a focused partnership with GCU through the K12 Targeted School Assistance initiative: Westwood Elementary School near GCU, or Andersen Middle School in the East Valley.
Donate to Elevate made its debut in 2013, and Habitat for Humanity was added as a beneficiary in 2015. Employees contributed $218,000 that first year, and employee participation and money raised both have increased every year. This year’s $2.95 million in pledges is 13 times more than what employees diverted in taxes through the program that first year.
“We had a considerable amount of people on the ground campus who took part in Donate to Elevate for the first time ever, and this was a big help to propel us over our goal," K12 Educational Development Program Director Sheila Jones said. "Our 27th Avenue campus I call 'old faithful' because they always knock it out of the park right after our program launches, which allows us to get an early jump on things. Together, we are making an impressive impact."
To date, employees in 2018-19 rerouted a little more than $1.6 million of their tax dollars to School Choice, resulting in 1,954 scholarships for students at 132 private schools. A little more than $1.2 million went to Habitat for Humanity, and almost $137,000 was pledged to to public/charter school extracurricular programs, Jones said.
Additionally, GCU Community Outreach Manager Debbie Accomazzo said GCU and GCE employees have helped 239 families through the Habitat for Humanity and GCU neighborhood revitalization initiative.
Approximately 64% of GCU and GCE full-time staff take advantage of the program, Jones said, though she's hoping to reach 80% participation because "at GCU, we don’t do anything just halfway, and it is doing so much good."
Although it might seem like a little thing for employees to fill out some forms to reroute their taxes, Hansen conveyed how much impact that little thing meant to his family.
“I was just in shock and SO grateful to God that people had decided to contribute to my son through the program and made a way for us to send him there (to his school of choice) without putting us through real hardship,” he said. “I cannot explain what a blessing it is to those parents who value Christian education.”
The 2020 campaign will launch Oct. 1, when Donate to Elevate's new goal will be announced.
Hansen said, “I emphatically encourage folks to pledge to someone and help them, as I was helped. It is truly a practical, real gift to families and to specific children. The Lord continues to bless us to this day, as my son finished his first year. The pledges from Donate to Elevate covered almost 100% (of his tuition). I can’t thank those folks enough for supporting my family in this way.”
Contact GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults at 602-639-7901 or [email protected].