Story by Ashlee Larrison
Photos by Ralph Freso
GCU News Bureau
No child should have to sleep on the floor.
That was the recurring response from volunteers when asked about building bunk beds Saturday at the Grand Canyon University CityServe HUB. (Here's a slideshow.)
The whole time senior Honors student Emma Blair was at the event, she couldn’t help but think about her six younger siblings and how blessed they all were to have a place to rest their heads at night.
“We grew up in bunk beds,” she said. “For a period of time, while we were actually moving, there were four of us in one bunk bed, which was crazy but fun.
“I’ve never had to sleep on the floor before, but I know what it’s like sharing a bunk bed with siblings. When we, as a community, are serving these kids, it reminds me to have perspective on what really matters.”
Saturday morning, members of the Honors College community, like Blair, teamed up with both CityServe and the nonprofit organization Sleep in Heavenly Peace (SHP) to impact local kids in need.
According to the SHP website, roughly 2-3% of children in America are without a bed. Without a safe, comfortable place to sleep, a child’s health and happiness could be negatively affected.
SHP has made it its mission to change that.
“We’re just humans helping humans, and we’ve just got these little humans that need our help,” SHP founder and Executive Director Luke Mickelson said. “To see these college students, to see the joy that they feel when they know they’re giving back to something … it lasts with them the rest of their lives.”
SHP Phoenix Chapter President Joe Genovese said working with GCU just made sense. Having been a longtime Habitat for Humanity volunteer, Genovese had witnessed firsthand the scale of what GCU could do in terms of service.
“I am in awe of what the University has created here, not just in terms of the physical space and the quality of education but in GCU’s commitment to the community,” he said. “I knew eventually Sleep in Heavenly Peace would come to campus. When the CityServe program began, it seemed to be the perfect opportunity for us to now partner with GCU in helping those communities in need.”
On the GCU side of the collaboration, CityServe HUB Manager Nathan Cooper can’t count the number of times he has received an application for a bed.
“I actually have a stack sitting on my desk that just came in yesterday,” he said. “It’s almost bittersweet because I don’t want these requests to come in because it still means there’s a need out there, but every request that does come in, and we’re able to fulfill, means there is one less kid sleeping on the floor.”
For the past three months, GCU CityServe has supplied families across the Valley with basic necessities, such as furniture, appliances and other household supplies.
With all the success that the CityServe HUB has had in the past few months, having just surpassed a million dollars’ worth of goods brought in, the collaboration with SHP is one that GCU President Brian Mueller agrees makes perfect sense.
“This is the beginning of a budding partnership,” Mueller said at the event. “This is a partnership between Grand Canyon University, our CityServe operation and Sleep in Heavenly Peace, and our students are making a major contribution to getting these beds built.
“Our students, understanding how much we’ve all been blessed, and their willingness to give back and to help others is a tremendous reflection of the Christian community that has been built here.”
That sentiment was true even before SHP officials set foot on campus. In the weeks leading up to the event, while helping to organize the collaboration, GCU CityServe Executive Director Jay Cory needed volunteers to make it possible.
With service being a core value of the Honors College, it wasn’t long before Associate Dean Dr. Breanna Naegeli jumped on the opportunity and rallied a dedicated group of Honors College staff, alumni, board members and students to help.
“Jay mentioned, ‘We’re trying to find 100 volunteers for this December 11th bed build event,’ and without hesitation I responded, ‘well, I’ll take those 100 spots and go get them filled for you,’” Naegeli said. “I could sense a little surprise on his end, and maybe even a little uncertainty knowing 100 volunteers on a Saturday morning before finals week was a big task; however, with the positive engagement of our advisory board, with the growing interest our students have and with the hearts for service of our full-time staff and knowing how we all really want to be a part of this mission, I was confident in our ability to rally the volunteers needed for this initiative.”
Naegeli got so many volunteers, she had to close the RSVP link early after accumulating more than 130 RSVPs.
“It was a good problem to have,” Naegeli said.
It’s the eagerness to serve others that the University has become known for, but it never ceases to amaze Cory.
“The Honors College, they really stepped up,” he said. “To be able to come together, Sleep in Heavenly Peace and Grand Canyon University, and build bunk beds to get kids off the floor, I know it touches the heart of God and it certainly touches my heart.”
The result was enough beds to give 70 kids a place to sleep.
And that is exactly why Honors College Advisory Board member Travis Hardin and his family decided to spend his 45th birthday with a drill in hand, making a difference.
“If we’re not giving, I believe we’re not doing anything,” Hardin said. “It may be my birthday, but what a day I can bring to someone else.
“For the kids who are going to receive beds, that have been sleeping on floors or maybe sleeping two or three to a bed – they now get a bed, and that’s the greatest gift I could get on my birthday.”
Junior Madeline Landes, a government major, was reminded of everything she loves most about being a Lope.
“It makes me feel really proud and grateful to be part of a school that is making a change,” she said. “I think it speaks more about our administration and faculty than it does even the students because we are going to do what the example that is being set is doing.
“Breanna (Naegeli), she’s out here getting her hands dirty, getting dusty and sweaty. Students see her and see the other administration, faculty and staff that are here serving … we want to be a part of the same thing.”
This weekend was the catalyst for a future full of collaborations with SHP, and Landes was just one of the many volunteers who can’t wait to do it all again.
“I just love the mission of not only CityServe but also Sleep in Heavenly Peace,” She said. “I definitely would want to volunteer again and hopefully with a ton more friends.”
Contact Ashlee Larrison at (602) 639-8488 or [email protected].
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