City Links Returns with Record Numbers and a Renewed Focus

by Ariel Fortune '08

One of the best ways to get connected in a new city is to make an intentional effort to be a part of it. On four consecutive Saturdays this fall, beginning on September 14, APU Alpha groups did exactly that. City Links, a former initiative that allowed first-year students to partner with various churches, schools, and organizations in the community to serve, returned this year.

Earlier this summer, Azusa Mayor Joseph Rocha approached APU about bringing City Links back after its three-year absence. "I was involved in the program a few years ago, and it really made an impact in the community, in Azusa residents, and in the lives of APU students," said Rocha. "These students are going to be living here for four years and we want them to be a part of the community."

Due to the passion of Rocha and key leaders in the APU community, the program was reinstated, this time with a renewed focus on service.

"Formerly it had been one day a year where everyone would serve in the morning," said Matt Visser, director of ministry and service. "This year, we split City Links into four separate days, with each of those days lasting until 3 p.m."

Once word was released of the project starting up again, Mayor Rocha; Ginny Dadaian, APU's director of community relations; and many others were approached by people in the community with projects in need of the students' help.

"We wanted this event to focus on the service experience," said Visser. "It was something students could plug into and a project we knew would be effective."

No promotional materials lined Cougar Walk. The students didn't wear elaborately decorated t-shirts. Instead, Alpha groups woke up early on Saturday, September 14 to trim trees, clean local houses, perform yard work, and complete other needed tasks in Azusa.

After the first weekend, Mayor Rocha received many positive phone calls from residents about the event.

"The students' excitement and energy is invigorating," said Rocha. "The residents were very receptive to the students and impressed with their attitudes and work ethic."

Out of appreciation, one woman even tried to pay each of the students who worked for her.

"In some cases, many of the residents don't get the chance to talk to people very often and they are thankful not only for the help, but to be able to spend time with students from all over with so many different experiences," said Rocha.

Amanda Torres, junior youth ministry major and Alpha leader, served on the first Saturday of City Links. Her group was assigned to First Presbyterian Church off Alosta Avenue where they spent the day gardening, preparing food, and assisting in other tasks.

"It was good for our group to be in a different environment together," said Torres.

One of her Alpha students, freshman psychology major Krystina Gamboa, agreed.

"I really liked giving back," said Gamboa. "I especially liked being able to do it as a team."

Although all the teams performed different tasks, many left with matching feelings of accomplishment, service, and unity.

"We helped and met people on a level that most people wouldn't get the chance to," said Brittany Adams-Hofman, sophomore social work major and Alpha leader. "The people in Azusa have a lot of stories; the lady we helped was able to share a part of her life with me."

Adams-Hofman's Alpha group spent the morning at a resident's home pulling leaves, planting grass, and doing other yard work. She acknowledges that the project was a huge contributor to the bond she has developed with her group.

"That Saturday really helped my Alpha group get closer," said Hofman. "Waking up early, and then smelling like cow manure on the bus on the way home, helped us move from just being in a group together to being friends."

From September 14 until the program's culmination on October 4, nearly 1,200 new students will help with more than 50 different projects throughout Azusa. As this year brings the largest freshmen class in APU history, program directors expect to see many links made throughout Azusa. Already, in the preliminary stages of its relaunch, City Links is living up to its name.