Lopes Go Local special to neighbors, students

GCU students dug into more than 40 tons of landscape rock during Lopes Go Local on Saturday.

Photos by Ralph Freso / Slideshow

A joyous presence fills the early morning of the Student Union Promenade. For the 14th time, Grand Canyon University’s partnership with Habitat for Humanity is sending student volunteers into the neighborhood to restore homes.

“It’s a day that is great to celebrate but a day that is meant to pass on,” says GCU alumna Andrea Northup, Sponsors Relations Manager for Habitat for Humanity Central Arizona.

It’s a reminder that the outreach students do while at the University can be carried with them after graduation.

Nancy Jeffery displays the GCU gnome homeowners are given by the students.

Nancy Jeffery, the homeowner whose front yard is getting a transformation Saturday during Lopes Go Local, knows the effect giving back to her community can have. Jeffrey also knows the struggles life can bring.

“It means everything that they are here to help,” she said.

She learned about Habitat for Humanity when her neighbor had the same thing done. She knew she was unable to landscape herself, so she kept the flyer of information all this time, until it was time to apply.

Her husband was a pastor and is now battling cancer. She has nodules on her vocal cords, so her abilities to talk are limited, but that does not stop her from beaming ear to ear the entire morning.

Her eyes fill with water when she realizes her service to the community is coming back to her, full circle. It just takes a bus full of GCU students and a Local Outreach team.

The 15 homes renovated Saturday brought the total for GCU's seven-year Habitat for Humanity partnership to more than 450 homes, thanks to more than 30,000 volunteer hours. Though there were 100 tons of rock to move, the jobs were completed before 1 p.m.

It’s all part of GCU’s Five-Point Plan, which includes creating jobs, making neighborhoods safer, improving home values, serving families in need and supporting K-12 education.  

GCU student Natalie Petrongelli finds you can never have enough safety equipment.

The Student Union Promenade is filled with breakfast and lots of purple as students receive their location assignments.

“It feels like Christmas morning! I’m just excited,” said Maddy Weiss, a Habitat for Humanity student lead. “It’s just really sweet to see all of the hard work come together, like all of our work to get volunteers.

“I really enjoy getting to be off campus and revitalizing the neighborhood around GCU. That has been awesome. We do paint and landscaping, and so it’s just really fun to drive off campus and say, ‘Oh, I did that house. That’s the landscape we did.’

“Most families have been there since the beginning, and so they see GCU grow and us being willing to go out and help them on projects that would take them a way longer time. I think it brings light to the neighborhood that doesn’t think students want to come out and serve their home. I think it’s flipped a lot of perspective of families, that we are able to help.”

The Habitat for Humanity morning is a semi-annual volunteer event and always brings new faces. Andres Torres, a first-time volunteer, shares how much this event means to him:

“I grew up in a more disadvantaged neighborhood as well, so just being able to give back to the community and be in a position where I attend a higher education institution and be part of a something bigger than myself is what I’m here for.”

GCU student Megan Campbell-Smith gets a lift from ASGCU Vice President Tyson Cantrell.

GCU’s student government, Associated Students of GCU, decided to collectively volunteer for the first Habitat event of the year, and Vice President Tyson Cantrell also is a newcomer.

“I think on a public note, it’s crucial that our actions match our words and that at GCU, we preach the Gospel but we also are helping our neighbors. We’re doing the manual labor, and we are walking and talking at the same time.”

The volunteer event has the same effect on Erik Nelsen, Director of Spiritual Life:

“As I was walking toward the Promenade, I saw everyone here. I said, ‘I gotta get over there.’ I just had that joy because something was happening. Sometimes I think our comforts can prevent us from taking advantage of our opportunities of volunteering, but then when we take that first step and we show up, then we see what God is doing and we are kinda just part of the ride. Sometimes you have to show up, and then He takes care of it.”

Habitat For Humanity volunteer house leader Dave Elston gives students some safety instructions, mixed with some "Habititis.

Dave Elston, a volunteer house leader, leaves his team with these words: “You’ve been exposed to a virus!” But this time, it’s a good one — “Habititis.”

“You never know what sparks somebody, and then they get hooked,” he said. “I used to tell people I don’t get paid for this, and then one day I was driving, and I said, you know, that’s the wrong message. The message is, I get paid with smiles from the homeowners when we’ve built on their house or we’ve worked on their yard or painted their house, and their smile and appreciation is my payment.”

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Bible Verse

"(Jesus) was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put Him to death by nailing Him to the cross." (Acts 2:23)

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