GCU throws a Purple Party for Paul's Car Wash

To donate: Go to AZFamily.com, text PCW20 to 26989 or purchase a Paul’s Wash at Any Super Star Car Wash, where 50% goes to Big Brothers Big Sisters.

Story by Lana Sweeten-Shults
Photos by David Kadlubowski
GCU News Bureau

The mud-spackled Ford F-150s and lightly dusted Toyota Priuses might not have been there, but the Grand Canyon University machine of Spirit Teams was gathered nonetheless, revving up the excitement level for one of GCU's favorite community events, Paul’s Pay It Forward Car Wash.

GCU women's basketball coach Molly Miller and Thunder present a $7,500 donation to Big Brothers Big Sisters at a recent filming for Paul's Car Wash, which went virtual this year.

Any other year, the University’s men’s and women’s basketball teams, coaches and staffers, GCU Cheer and Dance, the Thundering Heard Pep Band and, of course, Thunder, would load up a bus or two and head to Desert Ridge Marketplace in North Phoenix to lend a hand at the weeklong fundraiser. It’s where they would take over a car-washing shift and help CBS 5 chief meteorologist Paul Horton raise money for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Arizona.

Last year, in three hours, countless sudsy bubbles and more than 150 cars were sent on their way, clean as a whistle.

But like most events these days, the organizers of Paul’s Car Wash had to gingerly navigate around the coronavirus pandemic.

Miller has a little fun with Thunder before the filming.

What would normally be a high-energy few hours of washing cars in an electrified atmosphere that only GCU could create, turned instead into a most welcome, masked, socially distant visit by Horton to the campus to accept a $7,500 donation for Big Brothers Big Sisters.

Horton hit the road with a camera crew and visited several Paul’s Car Wash supporters, including GCU, for pre-filmed segments being aired Tuesday through Friday.

GCU's check presentation will air at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday on 3TV and CBS 5. Some Spirit Team members and the GCU-wrapped bus will be at the broadcast location -- Super Star Car Wash, 2970 N. Arizona Ave., in Chandler. It's where GCU employees are invited to stop by and get a "Paul's Wash," with 50% of proceeds going to Big Brothers Big Sisters.

“It’s a lot different, but we’ve done this for 13 years now, and just being able to go visit people and interview them at their location instead of at the car wash is great,” Horton said after accepting the donation from GCU recently.

Horton and crew planned to visit about 25 sites before this week's virtual event.

The Cheer team was on hand, along with the Thundering Heard Pep Band, to re-create that Purple Pre-Game Party feel.

Not that Horton’s visit was a quiet one.

In true GCU fashion, the Spirit teams took over the GCU Arena patio. The raucous Thundering Heard Pep Band blasted Gary Glitter’s “Rock and Roll Part 2 (The Hey Song).” Cheer and Thunder hyped up the atmosphere, too, and new women’s basketball coach Molly Miller helped present the check along with Dr. Joe Veres, Vice President of Student Success.

“The spectacle of the event, we wanted to do what we could to re-create that here on campus in the midst of COVID. … We’re just trying to re-create that Purple Pre-Game Party,” said Community Relations Manager Debbie Accomazzo, who quickly pulled together the GCU family to make Horton’s visit a spectacular one.

Horton started the car wash 13 years ago. He was part of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Arizona’s board of directors and knew the organization’s struggles.

“They just needed a little help,” Horton said.

CBS 5 Chief Meteorologist Paul Horton started Paul's Car Wash in 2007.

That little bit of help was the simple idea of a car wash, which has gone from raising $6,000 in its first year to more than $250,000 last year.

GCU always has felt a kinship with Big Brothers Big Sisters, one of its community partners.

“Big Brothers Big Sisters -- it absolutely celebrates the mission of mentorship. … It’s a strong voice for advocacy,” Accomazzo said of the organization, which pairs adult volunteers, called “Bigs,” with youth ages 6-18 who could use a mentor.

Beyond GCU's financial support, “we are investing much more deeply in that relationship,” said Accomazzo.

“We’ve always invested into Big Brothers Big Sisters, and even during this time, where it’s become a little bit difficult with the coronavirus, we didn’t want to back away,” said Veres. “We wanted to extend further.”

Veres has been invaluable in developing the University’s Learning Lounge, where K-12 students in the neighborhood receive free academic support from campus scholars. GCU wants to share those academic resources with Big Brothers Big Sisters.

No GCU celebration is complete without Thunder, of course.

The University, which touts more than 85,000 online students who are studying remotely, has the infrastructure in place when it comes to virtual education, something its own students benefited from during the pandemic.

And then there’s the biggest resource of all, Veres said – GCU’s scholars, who are well-versed in helping K-12 students with their studies.

“We’re able to support Big Brothers Big Sisters in some of their programs to offer academic assistance virtually,” Veres said. “We know it’s difficult with students being online or remote all day in school. Now they need more support than ever, and GCU is stepping up to help that way, with academic support virtually.”

A simple car wash, a big mission, a shared vision, a love of community, plus, “We like to go out and make a ruckus,” Accomazzo said with a smile, cars or not.

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


Related content:

GCU Today: Paul’s Car Wash is a team effort, and everyone wins

GCU Today: Lopes get sudsy to support Big Brothers Big Sisters


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