Honors students make an impact during Community Service Week

Students seal 300 snack bags assembled by Honors College students during a food-packaging event and blanket drive for the homeless.

Photos by Ralph Freso

Grand Canyon University’s Honors College strives to produce strong leaders who focus on character, integrity, serving and giving back. Community Service Week, which wrapped up today, is one of the ways the college embraces these pillars and teaches students to impact the world.

“Service Week is a regular, ongoing initiative we do every year. This is where we pour in all our heart, soul and manpower to support our local community, give back and share some love with those that are in need right here in our backyard,” said Dr. Breanna Naegeli, Dean of the Honors College, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.

She reflected on the weeklong slate of events, which included volunteering with such organizations as the International Rescue Committee and St. Vincent de Paul.

“We try to think creatively about problems that are going on within our community and find alternative solutions to approach those issues. Service Week is just one of those initiatives to show who we are as a college and as individuals.”

Honors students get to learn more about the neighborhoods around them when partnering with community organizations. This is a way to get them connected outside the walls of GCU.

“I get to bring some of my passions into this work and put it into an initiative. I get to expose students to the humanitarian needs, help them get involved and gain experience,” said Anna Cofrancesco, Honors College Program Manager.

Valley of the Sun/United Way Volunteer Engagement Director Malissa Larson talks with Honors College students during the event.

The Honors College on Wednesday hosted one of its partners, Valley of the Sun United Way, on the GCU campus for a food-packaging event and blanket drive for the homeless. The nonprofit, which serves the homeless, domestic violence shelters and veterans' shelters, to name a few, led the volunteer opportunity. About 50 honors student volunteers who assembled pantry kits.

“There is a lot of kids in the K-12 system that often go home and aren’t always promised their next meal. Sometimes their only promised meal is a school-provided meal,” said Malissa Larson, Volunteer Engagement Director with Valley of the Sun United Way. “When schools are shut down, sometimes those kids don’t eat for several days. We want them to at least have some snacks for the weekend.”

Classroom tables were stacked with family-size boxes of granola bars, applesauce, fruit snacks and Goldfish crackers that students packaged.

What should have been a two-hour event was over in just 30 minutes. Students zipped along and created a mountain-high pile of snack bags and didn't waste time cleaning up the empty boxes left behind.

Junior Makaila Valdez (center) drops off one of the 300 snack bags prepared by Honors College students during a food-packaging event and blanket drive for the homeless.

This is not the first time Valley of the Sun United Way has seen GCU honors students make an impact in the community.

“GCU students are very involved. They have volunteered at our housing community, where they have provided counseling, worked with youth and seniors, facilitated social events and even tutored, the list goes on,” Larson said. “GCU is out there using their resources and talents to make our county a better place to be.”

Larson was impressed by students’ hearts for service.

Valley of the Sun United Way Corporate Relations Manager Summer Perez helps Honors College students bag snack items.

“They are so willing to serve. They kept asking, ‘How can we help?’ and ‘What else can we do?’ when all the work has already been done. They could easily sneak out, leave early, but they are still here,” said Summer Perez, Valley of the Sun United Way Corporate Relations Manager.

In addition to creating food packages, students made inspirational notes and bookmarks.

If it wasn’t for the music playing in the background, the room would have been quiet as students focused on crafting encouraging cards. Boxes of markers, colored pencils, stickers and cardboard paper lined the tables and gave students plenty of ways to be creative.

Honors College Dean Dr. Breanna Naegeli joins students in making encouragement cards.

During Community Service Week, the Honors College is conveying to its students that to change the world, you must engage the world. That starts with supporting Arizona's community and taking that heart for service back to their own communities.

The week of service ended this morning with honors students helping out in Habitat for Humanity repair projects, though the spirit of service will continue long after this week.

Said junior honors student Amelia Miller, who is majoring in professional writing: “You are making an impact on the world by giving back to others. It helps your own heart, and you are giving back to yourself, too."

GCU's Staff Writer Izabela Fogarasi can be reached at [email protected]

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