Story by Lana Sweeten-Shults
Photos by Gillian Rea
GCU News Bureau
A family that paints together stays together.
The Lynch family banked on it as they gathered on the Promenade early Saturday morning in bone-chilling 40-degree weather with more than 200 Grand Canyon University volunteers for the semiannual Serve the City. The plan: Not to paint the town red, but to paint it GCU purple, at least in spirit.
While Havoc Ally Lynch wrapped herself up like a burrito in a hammock and camped out for a front-row seat to the men’s basketball game that night, the rest of her family was grabbing a breakfast burrito before fanning out to one of 10 homes being refurbished by GCU and Habitat for Humanity Central Arizona as part of Serve the City.
For the second year, parents had the chance to work on those home renovations alongside their children at the volunteer event, which is primarily student-manned.
“We began inviting families last year as we received an increasing number of comments from students and parents that we should invite families for an event in the spring,” said Charity Norman, Director of Welcome Programs in the Department of Student Affairs.
“It was really exciting because there were families that contacted me saying we did Serve the City last year and we were so moved by it that we wanted to do it again," added Andrea Northup, Habitat of Central Arizona Faith Relations Manager and a GCU Business Management graduate.
One family excited to return to campus and lend a hand was the Lynch family.
“We came in just for this event,” said GCU Parent Council member Mark Lynch of Langley, Wash. “We’ve done projects (as a family) before with our church and with our community. It's fun to sign up together as a family and work together.”
He and his wife joined their other GCU daughter, junior social work major Anna Lynch, on one of the home-renovation sites.
Anna added, just as sunlight started to brighten the sky around 7 a.m., “Working with my parents is one of my favorite things to do. I think it’s so awesome that they fly to Arizona just to come here and get up early and serve. Honestly, my favorite part about doing this is getting to do this with the rest of the GCU community -- with staff and parents and students, with all of us working.”
The Parent Council first joined Serve the City in 2018 at the impoverished Garcia Elementary School, where 50 of GCU’s College of Education students participated in a pre-service resident teaching program. Volunteers replaced pea gravel, painted a playground wall and painted stripes on a basketball court.
“It was really fun to come in the morning and then return later in the day and say, ‘Oh my goodness. Look what we did,’” said Parent Council member Ed Roddy of Lynden, Wash., who flew in for a council meeting and to lend a helping hand at Serve the City for the second year.
More than 220 homes renovated
Serve the City is a signature event as part of Operation Revival, GCU's neighborhood revitalization initiative in the Canyon Corridor. Habitat and GCU aim to renovate 700 homes in the neighborhood surrounding the campus and in Maryvale and restore the area back to what it once was -- a middle-class neighborhood.
"This project is a marriage, a partnership, between Habitat for Humanity Central Arizona and Grand Canyon University because we are a force for good in this neighborhood like no other," Habitat Board Chairman Tim Kelley, Assistant Professor of Entrepreneurship and Economics in the Colangelo College of Business, said of the project, which launched in January 2015. “The values of property since this project began have risen by over 50 percent, crime is down by 30 percent. You can drive the streets and see the beauty that had simply degraded over decades before we began this.
“This (neighborhood revitalization) is because of all of you,” Kelley told the volunteers. “This is because you wake up and bear the cold on a cold February morning and are willing to go and paint homes and build walls and do amazing things."
More than 220 unique homes have been refurbished so far. The partnership also has provided more than $1.4 million in home repairs, and more than 3,700 employees and students have volunteered nearly 20,000 hours.
Five years into the initiative, Serve the City continues to be “that momentum that keeps us pushing forward,” Northup said.
The cavalry’s here
Parent volunteer Mark Lynch embraced that momentum as he and a group of about 20 arrived by foot at the Mariposa Street home of Oscar Perez, about a mile from campus.
He shook Perez's hand and chatted with him before starting the four hours of painting alongside the rest of the Lynch family and other GCU and Habitat volunteers.
Not that Perez didn't jump right in, too.
“The really cool thing about Habitat is that that the homeowner always helps the volunteers,” said longtime Habitat volunteer David Probst. “He helped prep the whole house."
Perez and his family have lived in their home since 2012. He said the neighborhood has improved since GCU’s arrival. He sees more police around, giving a nod to another University initiative -- the Neighborhood Safety Initiative with the Phoenix Police Department.
“I feel more safe,” said Perez, who found out about GCU and Habitat’s home-renovation projects after seeing a flyer.
The project completed was work Perez said he might not have been able to accomplish otherwise. “It's an excellent deal, because GCU is helping all the neighborhood to look better. Sometimes you can’t afford it, so this program is really helpful.”
Nursing senior Vianna Demetrulias was a first-time Serve the City volunteer. With a paint roller in hand, she joined her mom, Jennifer McCormick of Cave Creek, in helping Perez beautify his home.
“My mom was actually the one who brought it up,” Demetrulias said.
“I thought it would be a really good project -- something fun to do,” McCormick said.
Demetrulias didn't mind that she was working alongside her mom.
“I think as you get older, you’re like friends with your parents. They’re still your parents, obviously, but you understand where they’re coming from, as opposed to when you’re 18, you’re like, ‘Oh, Mom! You won't let me do anything fun!'”
Besides the parent volunteers, several GCU groups signed up to make a difference in the community, too.
Marketing sophomore Cammie Craycroft, a member of the University's Global Outreach, said the team volunteers for Serve the City every semester.
“It just feels good to serve the community around us,” she said.
Mechanical engineering major Bianca Giorgi volunteered with a Welcome Programs team that was divided among several homes.
“It’s just really great to have the opportunity to not just serve within the community at GCU but the community outside,” she said. She worked beside Charity Norman at Steve and Charlene Atkinson’s home on Meadowbrook Avenue. Venturing outside the University takes students out of that safe bubble on campus and connects them to the outside world, Giorgi said.
Junior mechanical engineering major Matthew Hopper, a Serve the City student leader, said he discovered Serve the City his freshman year.
“It's amazing to just come out and be the literal hands and feet of Jesus to the community,” said Hopper, whose engineering skills come in handy on Habitat projects. He remembers how the homeowners at one house became emotional about all the help they received.
“That was the first time I got to experience it (that kind of reaction). People that are signing up for these projects really appreciate it and really care about how we're helping them and what we’re doing. It was really cool.”
The Atkinsons have lived in their home for three decades. Charlene saw postcards about the chance to have GCU and Habitat renovate their home.
“For a while I kept tossing them (the postcards), and then I saw our name on one of them. I thought, ‘What's the deal?’ So I called. …
“We were thrilled that they did all this stuff and it was affordable for us,” she said. “The kids are great to come out on a Saturday morning and donate their time.”
She said when she saw the group of GCU volunteers walking down the street toward her home, she announced to her husband, “The cavalry’s here!”
And it was -- students, parents and all.
Contact GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults at 602-639-7901 or at [email protected].
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