Updated January 27, 2023
For decades, Grand Canyon University has been involved in helping disadvantaged populations in its inner-city Phoenix community by volunteering at homeless shelters, nursing clinics or homes that assist veterans, refugees, the elderly and victims of sex trafficking.
Those efforts are significant to provide relief for those in need, but the University wanted to do more. It wanted to do something that could lift an entire community and revitalize what had once been a middle-class neighborhood. To that end, a comprehensive and ambitious five-point plan was established in 2015 that would transform west Phoenix through several public-private partnerships and initiatives by:
- Serving families in need: As part of a partnership with CityServe and its collaborative network of faith-based nonprofits, corporate, retail, farm and food supply partners, GCU has created 87,000 square feet of warehouse space on its campus that will provide millions of dollars worth of household goods to families in need. $6.5 million worth of surplus goods including beds, furniture, heaters, diapers, food boxes and other essential items have been delivered to the warehouse from major retailers such as Costco, Amazon, Home Depot and Lowe’s. Over 9,500 families have been impacted. GCU is the first university in the country to serve as a CityServe HUB, with a goal to equip and mobilize students to meet community needs and to help Arizona families move from dependency to sustainability.
- Making neighborhoods safer: GCU is in the midst of an 11-year, $2.2 million partnership with the City of Phoenix to increase safety and eliminate crime in the neighborhoods surrounding GCU. In the first seven years of the program, crimes in the targeted areas decreased 19.8% (compared to a 3.5% drop city-wide during the same time frame). The public-private partnership is being lauded as a model for other cities to follow.
- Improving home values: In this first-of-its-kind partnership, GCU is providing both the funding and manpower to renovate an entire community of homes in its neighborhood through a partnership with Habitat for Humanity, a nonprofit Christian housing ministry. Since 2015, $5 million has been raised and more than 31,000 volunteer hours contributed to renovate 469 homes in our community. Median home values have risen 789% in the 85017 zip code since 2011.
- Supporting K-12 education: GCU is having a significant impact on public and private K-12 schools in the community through two groundbreaking initiatives. First, the University started its Learning Lounge program in 2013 to provide free tutoring and mentoring to students at nearby Alhambra High School — a once-D-rated school in which 90% of its families fall below the federal poverty line and for many of whom English is a second language. Three years later, Alhambra was nine points away from being a B-rated school and had earned the Future of Arizona Beat the Odds Institute Gold Award. The successes of the Learning Lounge have since been expanded to more than 300 schools, serving 5,200+ K-12 students with over 72,000 visits and more than 175,000 hours of study. GCU’s best and brightest students serve as tutors for K-12 students, some of whom are struggling just to advance to the next grade level and others who are taking advanced placement classes with an eye on a college scholarship.
Second, in an effort to broaden the successes of the Learning Lounge, GCU created the Students Inspiring Students scholarship for Phoenix-area students who seek academic assistance in the Learning Lounge. Scholarship recipients, in turn, pay it forward by providing mentoring and academic support at a Learning Lounge site to assist the next group of high school students behind them. The end result is a grass-roots, self-funded initiative that is both sustainable and scalable in which students are inspiring students and making a significant impact on K-12 education in an inner-city environment. The full-tuition scholarships are made possible by a fundraising campaign with GCU and local business and philanthropic leaders. Thus far, 650 full-tuition scholarships have been awarded to low-income students who otherwise may not have been able to afford college. The goal is to award 800 full-tuition scholarships (200 per year) to qualified high school seniors and create an education-minded inner-city community with students who are passionate, motivated and capable of succeeding in college and the workplace.
- Creating jobs on campus and in west Phoenix: GCU has become an anchor institution in west Phoenix that now employs, along with its partners, more than 16,000 people. As the university has grown, GCU and its partners now create an annual economic impact of $2.1 billion according to a study by Elliott Pollack & Co. GCU has also launched eight new business enterprises, including a hotel, golf course, two public restaurants, a merchandise company, a student ad agency and coffee and pizza companies. These enterprises provide management opportunities for recent graduates and employment opportunities for nearly 500 graduates, students and local residents, while also providing an economic stimulus for West Phoenix.
Individually, each element of GCU’s five-point plan is innovative. Together, they can be transformative.
“When we think about what God has done in terms of blessing us here at GCU, it’s not right if we just come here every day for ourselves,” GCU President Brian Mueller said. "We need to make an impact in the community. We need to be the restorers of the world we live in. There’s a brokenness everywhere, but together – with the right plan – we can transform this.”