LISTEN TO EP.67
How to Engage the Next Generation in Community Transformation
What would our world look like if the next generation committed to reviving and restoring their communities? Brian Mueller, President of Grand Canyon University in Arizona, one of the nation’s largest private Christian universities, shares how they are empowering their students to compassionately transform local communities through innovative ways. Since 2008, President Mueller’s GCU students and faculty have transformed a neighborhood and brought salt and light into lives on the brink. GCU’s Center for Human Flourishing and newly created CityServe Hub has become a catalyst of opportunity to help ensure no one in their community has to live in poverty or go hungry. Open your mind and heart to hear how God could be calling you to create strategic partnerships and empower the next generation to make a tangible impact from your neighborhood to the nations.
EP.67 HIGHLIGHT ARTICLE
Engaging the Next Generation in Community Transformation
What if universities could become centers of community transformation? That’s exactly what’s happening at Grand Grand Canyon University (GCU) in Phoenix, Arizona. GCU President, Brian Mueller joined The Influencers Podcast and shared his 5-point plan of developing the next generation of servant leaders of compassion to address the needs of the local community. As a key piece of a GCU student’s education and personal development, the 5-point community engagement plan encompasses economic development, safety, homes, education, and family.
Jerry Colangelo, former owner of the Phoenix Suns and GCU supporter, recently said at a GCU CityServe event, “It’s all about giving back and taking care of the community. Our calling is to do whatever we can to help those less privileged.” This sentiment echoes Mueller’s vision.
When Brian Mueller became president of GCU, he came with not only a vision of growth for the university, but the community as well. The Phoenix campus has steadily progressed to over 23,000 undergrad students as well as over 90,000 students online with a budget of $1.6 billion. The campus is located in the Maryville area which has seen significant deterioration over the past few decades as businesses and people have moved out. Instead of keeping his focus purely on campus development, Mueller saw the community as a “platform to live out our faith.”
The community engagement plan is built upon his conviction that “revival is about Christian communities coming alive, taking over their responsibilities to reach out to disadvantaged populations and spread the gospel as a result.” A value close at heart within GCU culture and the student body.
Economic development is of value to any community and Mueller placed it of utmost importance for community transformation. GCU has created 14,000 jobs for residents and recently opened 10 more businesses to create even more local jobs. Each job provides the employee a salary, benefits, and the opportunity to send their kids to the university for free—which as Mueller says, “can transform a family’s trajectory.”
The next point of the community engagement plan is focused on safety. GCU has seen significant progress by intentionally partnering with Phoenix police to increase neighborhood safety, help kids feel more comfortable walking to school, and address gang activity.
The third point is homes. GCU has partnered with Habitat for Humanity to rebuild 400 homes with the goal of reaching 800 homes. The result of this work has increased home prices in this zip code more than any other in the surrounding area.
Education is key to transformation which is why Mueller placed it as a fourth point in the plan. GCU has created an after-school tutoring program with 1,200 kids from the local neighborhood enrolled. The University has even awarded 545 full ride scholarships to kids in the local area. “It’s brought tremendous hope to the families and the students and the schools in our neighborhood,” says Mueller.
Finally, the last point is family. GCU is serving local families in the area through a partnership with CityServe, a collaborative network designed to help the local church be the driving catalyst for community transformation. In 2021, GCU launched the first ever student-led CityServe HUB and now receives millions of dollars worth of food and home goods to give to families in the area. GCU was able to participate as a point of distribution for the USDA Farmers to Families Food Box program, as part of the Faith Based Community for Farmers to Families, facilitated by CityServe. GCU students and staff volunteers gave away 16,000 boxes of food to families in need over just a couple of weeks during the height of the pandemic. “There’s so much food on our campus and yet right outside our barriers there are hungry three and four year olds. That’s not right. Jesus would not have tolerated that.” The goal is to build a network of families GCU can serve with long-term solutions to create lasting change.
Now with 57 PODs (point of distribution) in its collaborative network supply chain, GCU CityServe has distributed over $600,000 worth of GIK to families in need. The GCU CityServe HUB is also expanding its 35,000 square foot warehouse to 100,000 square feet to make room for additional product and growth.
Most recently, a family in Buckeye, Arizona had lost their home and all their possessions in a house fire. In the waiting for insurance to issue funds, a local church resourced by GCU CityServe was able to move in, wrap around the family and bring numerous items they immediately needed.
This innovative community transformation plan is not only impacting the city but the students as well. Mueller is making sure “we’re not going to just teach involvement in a community, but we’re gonna practice it. We’re hoping we can serve as an inspiration to other universities who are located in inner city neighborhoods.” Mueller’s ultimate goal is simple, to love and serve their community in such a way that people start to ask, “who is this Jesus that they claim to follow. Maybe I need to know more about him.” This is ripe ground for a revival that can sweep across the nation with the next generation leading the way.