GCU reaches $3.2 million Allocate pledge goal

Students and employees complete Habitat for Humanity projects Feb. 6 for Serve the City. It was the first time GCU ventured into the neighborhood after COVID-19 shutdowns, though employees continued to support Habitat through Allocate to Elevate.

By Lana Sweeten-Shults
GCU News Bureau

Cameron Whitcomb wasn’t sure his team members, in the middle of a global pandemic, would be willing to pledge to Allocate to Elevate as they had in the past – or if they even could pledge.

Yet, amid all the uncertainties, the Allocate to Elevate Champion’s team, Superteam 4 in Online Enrollment Operations, came through.

The team reached its participation goal in Allocate to Elevate, the employee giving program in which Grand Canyon University and Grand Canyon Education employees designate their state tax dollars to initiatives that are important to GCU’s mission to transform the community.

Those initiatives include:

  • Partnering with Habitat for Humanity Central Arizona to restore homes in the Canyon Corridor
  • Supporting School Choice Arizona in helping families pay their children's tuition to Christian schools
  • Supporting public school extracurricular activities.
Allocate to Elevate Champion Cameron Whitcomb said his team rallied and made its pledge goal.

“My Superteam was one of the lowest in participation at one point,” said Whitcomb, Regional Director of Online Enrollment Operations and Team Lead of Superteam 4. “But we persevered and got it done.”

As did GCU.

The University set an ambitious $3.2 million giving goal for 2020-2021 and reached that goal despite the obstacles of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It was the same goal the Allocate to Elevate team set for itself the year before.

The team was at the height of its final push in March 2020 of encouraging employees to pledge those tax dollars. Then COVID-19 hit and the University sent students and employees home as part of a nationwide shutdown to prevent the spread of the virus.

That's when the University’s focus and efforts shifted and, in COVID-19 solution mode, it changed gears to make personal protective equipment, become a coronavirus testing site in collaboration with several community partners, and launch a mass vaccination site with a focus on helping the area’s most vulnerable populations.

Sheila Jones, K12 Educational Development Program Director and the Allocate to Elevate coordinator, said employees still gave despite pandemic worries.

“We were just shy of our goal last year by a handful of people,” said Sheila Jones, K12 Educational Development Program Director and the Allocate to Elevate coordinator.

“Anxiety was so high at that time,” recalled Dr. Tacy Ashby, Senior Vice President of K12 Educational Development, whose team champions the Allocate to Elevate initiative.

But Jones still was impressed with the effort: “Everyone stepped up and did amazing despite their nerves or worrying about the economy. They still gave.”

The pandemic made it tricky to set a new pledge goal as a new Allocate to Elevate campaign launched in October 2020.

“We felt we were being lofty to maintain the goal in a year of uncertainty," Ashby said. "As we got to December and saw how close we were, we met with President (Brian) Mueller and he was, as he always is, encouraging. We looped back to all our champions and really stressed the importance of the work and the community spirit, and people rallied.”

For Whitcomb, that meant reconnecting with his team and bringing home the importance of the initiative and those causes in the community that GCU embraces.

“We accomplished our goal by meeting individually with employees who had questions, answering their questions and showing them how they could contribute to the greater good,” he said. “I’m so proud of Superteam 4 for rallying together to give back to our community.”

Ashby said, “It was really champion by champion who looped back to their team. I think it put us over.”

She also credits Jones for her hard work: “I know even when people were working remotely, she would speak to many groups via Zoom (to talk about Allocate to Elevate). And, obviously, we want to thank President Mueller for his ongoing support and his vision for the transformation of our community.”

After employees fill out their Allocate to Elevate pledge forms to tell the state where they want their tax money to go, Jones said she doesn’t know if employees realize their pledges stay in the community.

“The money buys rocks and paintbrushes, and it goes directly to the Canyon Corridor,” Jones said. “It stays directly in our neighborhood.”

GCU’s west Phoenix neighborhood – one of the most diverse areas in the city with its immigrant and refugee communities and its population of essential workers – was among the hardest hit in the state when the coronavirus struck.

So it was tough when GCU had to pause its work in the community and could not send students or employees into the neighborhood to complete painting and landscaping projects.

Local donors, such as GCU, provide 97% of the funding for Habitat projects.

“With Habitat for Humanity, we knew we needed to suspend those projects, and we did so broken-hearted,” said Community Relations Director Debbie Accomazzo, though she knew it was the right thing to do.

Although the University has not been able to provide the manpower for those Habitat home renovation projects, there has been a silver lining: Allocate to Elevate. Employees still have been able to support Habitat, School Choice Arizona and public school extracurricular activities financially through the Arizona Charitable Tax Credit and Public School Tax Credit, which is how Allocate to Elevate is funded.

Like at GCU, anxiety was high at Habitat for Humanity Central Arizona, whose employees and volunteers worried about how COVID-19 would stand in the way of their mission.

Tina Burgoz, Chief Development Officer for Habitat for Humanity Central Arizona, said Allocate to Elevate funding helps subsidize home repairs.

“This last year has been a tough one for all of us,” said Habitat Chief Development Officer Tina Burgoz. “We were concerned if people would even be in a position to give.”

Burgoz said that while families pay for a portion of the repair cost to their homes − the program is a hand up and not a handout − funding from partners such as GCU helps subsidize the remaining repair costs.

“Because each Habitat location is locally funded and locally based, we depend on local donations to serve the families that we do,” she said. “While Habitat is a national and international organization, only 3% of our funding comes from our national headquarters. The other 97% comes from local donors. That’s why we love and appreciate the generosity of GCU/GCE employees.”

Even though volunteers have been limited since the pandemic hit a little more than a year ago, Burgoz said Habitat looked for creative ways to serve families. In the 2020-2021 academic year, the nonprofit served 18 unique families with 69 repairs.

And things are looking up.

Burgoz said almost 60 families are scheduled for site visits to see if the organization can offer repairs to their homes.

At GCU, the University returned to the community for the first time since the shutdown in March 2020. Small, socially distanced and masked teams of students and employees completed painting and landscaping projects in the spring with partner Habitat for Humanity, working on five homes Feb. 6 in a pared down version of Serve the City.

Besides supporting Habitat for Humanity, Allocate to Elevate dollars go to School Choice Arizona and public school extracurricular activities.

Jones said that she has heard from School Choice Arizona that it is having a phenomenal year despite COVID.

One thing she said she has noticed more of this academic year is employees designating their tax dollars to co-workers’ children to help cover the cost of tuition to attend private Christian schools.

“That has really grown and has just been this huge blessing, because it’s paying their tuition directly,” Jones said. “Instead of letting School Choice pick (how to use your tax dollars), you can say, ‘Oh, I want it to go to my co-worker’s daughter or son.’ I have noticed that grow quite a bit the last couple of years.”

Habitat and School Choice couldn’t continue to serve the community without the support of partners such as GCU and without those $3.2 million of Allocate to Elevate pledges from employees.

“When the pandemic first hit, President Brian Mueller shared that GCU and GCE weren’t going anywhere – that they would continue to stand by us and support us through donations,” Burgoz said. “We were overjoyed when we heard those words − and greatly relieved. GCU has always been an amazing partner, but it was reassuring to know they would continue to give, even through a tough season.”

Ashby said, “We’re thrilled to have reached the goal, and it is a reflection of the caring and committed GCU community.”

GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-7901.


Related content:

GCU Today: Tax time go time for Allocate to Elevate participants

GCU Today: Allocate to Elevate never on back burner for one team

GCU Today: Allocate to Elevate continues to lift up community


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