GCU students building a stronger community

Posted: Updated:
By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver
By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver
By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver
By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver
By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver

PHOENIX -- At first glance, it may look like the last place you would seek refuge -- a hard stretch of Camelback Road just west of the Black Canyon Freeway.

But this is exactly where refugees from more than 20 nations have found sanctuary, and a group of Grand Canyon University students is working to make sure it's more than just a place to pass through; it is a community built for success.

Esther Sandy still remembers the sweet songs of her native Burma. She sang for 3TV at Serrano Village Apartments in Phoenix, where she and her family are building a new life.

That melody was joined by the rhythm of laughter and a chorus of joyful screams, all blended together thanks to some Grand Canyon University students.

“Our goal is to just help out in any way we can and kind of serve this community,“ said GCU Outreach Leader Marissa Surber. “So I think it's really just challenging and really empowering for people to step out of their comfort zones, and to get out here and see what people in this area face."

In that spirit every week, Grand Canyon students descend on this community of refugees.

“Serrano Village is home to over 20 different nationalities and cultures,” Surber said. “We do play time,  we do snacks, we do a Bible study, and then on Wednesday night we do tutoring.”

On the night 3TV visited the community, it was play time and pizza.

“Our primary focus is giving them an environment where they have connections because ... in this neighborhood, in their situation, it would be very easy to get lost into a number of things,” Surber said.

For resident Sung Par, the students have provided both friendship and tutoring.

“They came here and they said, 'You guys want help?' and I was like, 'Yeah, I do," because I am second language and I really need help," she said.

Her brother, Michael, is already a GCU student.

“I am a part of GCU, and I am also a part of this refugee mission program,” he told 3TV.

It is that bridge to success paved with smiles and songs that Surber says is the true reward.

"We hope that through our help and through our encouragement, we open doors for them to continue their education, to find purpose in this new culture, and to just have a life that they never could from where they came from is really what we hope for them," she said.

The Grand Canyon students also help the adults with English skills. Since the university is just down the road, they say this is really about building up their own neighborhood.