GCU extends support to students affected by Maui fires

Incoming GCU students and their families stay "Maui Strong" at Ululani's Hawaiian Shave Ice in Maui.

Admissions counselor Kristy Pang recruits prospective Grand Canyon University students on the island of Maui, where her mother was born and spent her entire life.

This was supposed to be a joyous time for the Pang family, including for son Makaha, who is one of more than 245 new students from Hawaii — 39 of them from Maui — expected to attend GCU in a little more than a week.

But Makaha and other GCU students from Maui will arrive with heavy hearts in the wake of the fires that, at the latest count, have caused 111 deaths and incinerated much of the popular Lahaina community.

Makaha, who plans to study finance and economics, will receive ongoing support from his mother, while at the same time knowing that his father lost his home in the Aug. 8 fires.

“We’re affected that way,” Pang said. “I try to keep the spirits up to make it exciting, something to look forward to — attending GCU."

But, “Honestly, our community is hurting.”

GCU-bound students gather at a nurturing event in Maui.

The damage caused by the fires was so severe that Tasha Short, GCU Admissions Manager who oversees the Hawaii and Las Vegas communities, and Pang haven’t been able to contact all the Maui students enrolled at GCU or planning to attend this fall.

Pang has received several emails and messages from parents wondering if they still can afford to send their children to college after losing homes and/or jobs due to the fires.

Pang was caught with emotion when describing one incoming student who plans to study nursing after losing her home.

“I want her to be on campus. She needs to be on campus and surrounded by us at GCU,” Pang said before pausing. “But I know that there's a lot of guilt because she'll have a house and her family won't.”

The fires struck a few days before Pang was scheduled to hold an annual nurturing event at Ululani’s Hawaiian Shave Ice, a popular Maui establishment.

But the fires and subsequent damage caused Short and Pang to turn what normally is a celebratory event into more of a donation drive.

The group collected GCU blankets, pillows, diapers, canned goods, toothpaste, deodorant and more for the local food bank and humane society.

The effect of the fires caused low attendance among students, Pang said.

Honestly, our community is hurting.

Kristy Pang, GCU admissions counselor

Nevertheless, Short added, “I did see on (the television news) a lot of our incoming GCU students working at the shelters."

Pang added that one parent volunteered her services to take a break from her normal duties of shuttling elderly people around the island.

“Her son was home sleeping because he was helping her (after the fire),” Pang said.

Pang added that that the Hawaii Admissions team is exploring future community service opportunities on Maui.

She has heard from parents who are determined to send their students to GCU for the fall semester, primarily because they’ll be assured their children have a place to live.

“Knowing that is helpful, but it's really, really sad if you think about it, and that's the reason why,” Short said. “But the vast majority of our students are definitely struggling financially.”

And a storm forecast to hit the islands later this week brings no relief.

“We're all just kind of on our toes right now,” said Pang, mindful that heavy high winds caused the fires last week. “There's no relaxing because you just never know.”

As of Wednesday morning, Pang said she hadn’t heard from a student and was scared because the student’s family revolved around a food truck located on Lahainaluna Road, which was torched from the fires.

Dr. Tim Griffin, Vice President of Student Affairs, University Pastor and Dean of Students, said in a letter drafted for GCU's Hawaii students, "We express our condolences for the tragedy that recently hit Maui and other Hawaii locations. We are praying for you and have support available to you now and upon your return to campus."

Resident assistants who recently returned to campus were given a list of students from Maui and asked them to offer any campus support they may need, according to Holly Neely, Resident Life Manager.

An incoming fall 2023 student event at Ala Moana Beach Park in Oahu Aug. 11 evolved into a collection drive for residents affected by the fires in Maui. On hand were University admissions counselors (from left) Alyssa Catbagan, Shayna Wago, Cullen Mosher and (not pictured) Jeff Vilardi.

Members of the campus' Welcome Programs accelerated their contact with Maui students before their arrival, said Charity Norman, Director of GCU’s Welcome Programs, Student Affairs Division.

In addition, GCU’s social media accounts have sent messages stressing thoughts and prayers for those impacted by the Maui fires and encouraging them to reach out to connect them with available resources. Jeremy Mack, GCU Director of Student Engagement, reinforced that social media is one of the primary ways his department communicates with students, adding that the @ASGCU and @gcu_multicultural Instagram accounts attract a strong following.

Despite the tragedy, Short said the spirit of the people of Maui remains strong, based on their church attendance and donating their time to help those in need.

A scheduled nurturing event at Ala Moana Beach Park in Oahu Aug. 12 turned into a donation center, with University admissions counselor Alyssa Catbagan spearheading the initiative to collect donations of items for shipment to Maui, on behalf of GCU's incoming students.

A 150-year-old banyan tree, a Lahaina landmark, was scalded during the fires but has been watered constantly in hopes of being revived.

“A lot of people in this community have gotten engaged there. That (tree) is a staple in the community. That’s a real symbol of hope,” Short said, and for now, hope is what the residents of Maui are holding on to.

GCU News senior writer Mark Gonzales can be reached at [email protected]


Related content:

GCU News: It's 'Aloha!' to Hawaii, and to GCU

GCU News: GCU student fights wildfires with his own inner fire


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GCU Magazine

Bible Verse

David said to Michal, "It was before the Lord, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when He appointed me ruler over the Lord’s people Israel — I will celebrate before the Lord. (2 Samuel 6:21)

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