Story by Lana Sweeten-Shults
GCU News Bureau
Since Grand Canyon University announced a sweeping neighborhood revitalization project with partner Habitat for Humanity Central Arizona five years ago, the changes in the neighborhood have been striking.
The Operation Revival initiative has transformed the community through the completion of 662 repairs to the homes of 285 families in the Canyon Corridor and Maryvale. Those improvements have been completed by GCU and Grand Canyon Education employee and student volunteers who have contributed more than 24,100 hours of service.
In addition, employees have contributed to Habitat financially, providing more than $2.9 million to the organization since the initiative began through workplace-giving program Allocate to Elevate. They can divert what they would otherwise pay into state taxes into specific buckets, such as Habitat.
“Look at what we’ve accomplished,” University Relations Manager Debbie Accomazzo said. “But we’re not done yet making a difference.”
The campus community will celebrate those accomplishments at Operation Revival Night at the men’s basketball game Saturday, when the Lopes take on UT Rio Grande Valley at 6 p.m. in GCU Arena.
Any employee who has volunteered for a Habitat project as part of the initiative will receive an invitation to attend, as will Habitat staff and volunteer leaders who have worked alongside GCU and GCE in their mission to renovate these homes and revitalize the community.
Habitat for Humanity Central Arizona President/CEO Jason Barlow has seen the changes in the neighborhood firsthand – the newly painted houses, the new roofs and windows, the freshly landscaped yards.
“When everyone starts to see their neighbors’ and friends’ homes being improved, people start picking up the trash and improving the neighborhood,” Barlow said of the domino effect that those renovations have had – changes that have contributed to home resale values in the 85017 zip code increasing 302% since 2011, according to a May 2019 article published in the Arizona Republic.
“I look at it as a marriage made in heaven,” Barlow said of GCU’s partnership with Habitat through Operation Revival. “Both of us have that Christian mission. I just think the partnership is absolutely amazing.”
Accomazzo, too, has witnessed those changes.
She knows of employees who have bought homes in the neighborhood, such as alumnus and doctoral enrollment counselor Nick Monte, a 2016 graduate who also is pursuing his master’s degree at GCU.
She also has seen the kinship that has unfolded between homeowners and volunteers.
“I have seen connections to one another that have been discovered and the camaraderie of shared purpose,” she said of listening to homeowners talk to volunteers about family members who have attended or are attending GCU. Or they’ll share how the neighborhood has changed over the years. “We find out interesting tidbits. It’s always nice to get a glimpse of their lives.”
Accomazzo knows of one Habitat volunteer leader who has contributed more than 200 volunteer hours in Operation Revival projects.
“He likes working with our volunteers so much,” she said.
The first homeowner to be part of the initiative, John Peltz – Accomazzo calls his family the First Family of Habitat – has had his home repaired three more times since the debut Operation Revival home renovation project in January 2015.
He, too, plans to be at Operation Revival Night at men’s basketball, celebrating at the game alongside GCU, GCE and Habitat.
Of course, that celebration doesn’t mean a break in all the work still to be done as the University continues to realize its vision of restoring the community to what it once was, a thriving middle-class neighborhood.
Between now and July 10, more than 200 volunteers are needed to man various Habitat projects, Accomazzo said, with two Saturday dates available for those who prefer to work on a Saturday. (Sign up here.)
“You’re needed. You’re making a difference. Alongside the homeowners, we’re all invested,” she said.
GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-7901.