By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau
On any given Saturday, Habitat for Humanity Central Arizona volunteers are helping build and renovate residences at up to 30 sites around the Valley. Starting in January, students and employees from Grand Canyon University will be counted among that number in an unprecedented initiative.
GCU and Habitat are partnering on the Canyon Corridor Project, part of Habitat’s Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative, to renovate residences in the local neighborhood. The first phase of the project is scheduled to take 18 months, with three more phases planned over the next two years.
The University plans to contribute $700,000 to Phase 1 of the project along with the volunteer efforts of GCU students and employees, who also can serve as team leaders.
Orientation already has begun, but it’s not too late to get on board. Habitat officials plan to hold more orientation sessions to recruit and train team leaders before the January kickoff of the project. For more information, contact Cassandra Jarles, faith relations manager for Habitat’s Central Arizona affiliate, at 623-583-2417 or [email protected].
The University announced in August that, to encourage employees to give back to the community, all full-time employees will be provided up to 16 hours per year of community service time to volunteer at a sanctioned GCU charitable organization or event. Information is available here.
In addition to being able to pledge part of their state tax liability to support private school scholarships and public school extracurricular activities, GCU employees can choose to benefit Habitat for Humanity through Donate to Elevate: Giving Back, Raising Hope. Employees can consider directing some of their taxes, which otherwise would go to the state, to any of the two parts of the new program. For more information about the new opportunity, contact Randy Bellah, program director in GCU’s Strategic Educational Alliances, at [email protected].
“We have the ability to raise the necessary funds and supply the leadership and workforce that, together with Habitat for Humanity and our neighbors, can help transform this community,” said Brian Mueller, GCU’s president and CEO. “Coupled with our other projects involving neighborhood safety, jobs and lifting the capabilities of the public school system, this project can, over time, restore this community to the middle-class status it has had in the past.”
Roger Schwierjohn, president and CEO of Habitat for Humanity Central Arizona, said, “It is extremely generous on GCU’s behalf to provide significant funding. It is also one of the first of its kind, if not the first, across the country in which a university is partnering with a Habitat for Humanity affiliate to impact an entire community.”
Habitat for Humanity has built, renovated and repaired more than 800,000 homes in 100 countries since 1976 in partnership with families of low to moderate income. The Central Arizona affiliate, which serves Maricopa and Pinal counties, has been in existence since 1985 and in June celebrated the completion of its 1,000th home. It also was the first Habitat affiliate to build an entire subdivision.
Through zero-interest loans and volunteer labor, Habitat works with legal residents to help them upgrade their existing home or, if they are living in substandard or overcrowded housing, move to a better one.
Homeowners are required to work alongside the volunteers during the renovation. The organization’s motto is that it’s “a hand up, not a hand out.”
GCU students and employees who have volunteered so far have been divided into two groups — team leaders who do physical labor, and an outreach team that goes door to door in advance of the project to identify property owners wanting to take advantage of the program.
Team leaders help the volunteers complete renovation tasks, which usually include landscaping, roof replacement, painting and structural repairs. Habitat officials emphasize that the job is more about people skills than technical skills, and many team leaders had no experience in home construction before joining Habitat.
The team leaders report to the house leader, a volunteer foreman who recognizes tasks and delegates them and acts as a liaison between the team leader and the site supervisor. The house leader also leads the morning meeting, which includes an extensive safety presentation and a prayer. Because of the nature of construction work and the usual inexperience of the volunteers, Habitat is extremely focused on safety.
The first orientation session for GCU volunteers training to be team leaders was Saturday, and attendees were able to paint a carport at an assisted-care facility and learn roof replacement at a nearby home. The arrival of the GCU crew brought tears to the eyes of the homeowner, Olga Valdivia.
“It felt wonderful,” she said. “They’re doing it out of their own hearts. They want to give.”
Valdivia tried to join them on the roof but had to go back down the ladder when she felt wobbly because of the height. But the Sprouts deli worker didn’t wobble at all when she talked about how she long has admired GCU’s Christian culture and how she has tried to instill those ideals into her two children, Lilianna, 18, and Zachariah, 12, by doing things like buying blankets at a Goodwill store and giving them to the homeless in the winter.
“Even though we don’t have much,” she said, “we’re going to give you what we can.”
Among the GCU volunteers was Kaylin Bennett, a scheduler in Event Services who said the extent of her construction experience was watching her father do that type of work and helping on one previous Habitat project.
“I feel like God has called to me to enter the mission field to work with homeless people,” she said. “I feel like this is a good first step.”
And how did it go up on the roof?
“It’s fun — after you know what you’re doing,” she said. “And it’s a great view.”
GCU's Dean of Students Pastor Tim Griffin said the initiative fits the University’s mission in several ways.
“The common denominator for our faith-based community on campus is service. It obviously is a core value,” Griffin said. “As a starting point, Habitat for Humanity provides a huge opportunity to meet that goal. You don’t have to be an expert in faith to be involved, and it offers an opportunity to serve others in a physical way. It also provides a national connection to service programs that eventually will involve the entire GCU population, including online students.”
Contact Rick Vacek at 602-639-8203 or [email protected]