I was born and raised in Azusa and have lived in Azusa my whole life. I have seen a lot of things change in this city, but the biggest was when the construction of the shopping center we now know as Citrus Crossing began. I was not sure why it was being built, but I loved the idea of getting a Panda Express and other cool shops close to home.
Along with the construction of Citrus Crossing, I began seeing APU’s logo appear around the city more frequently. The vacant building across the street from St. Frances of Rome church became an Azusa Pacific building, the parking lot across the street from the church was bought by APU, and the old drive-in theater that held so many memories for myself and other Azusa residents was turned into the West Campus parking lot.
I wondered why this was happening, and I was not sure how to feel about it. My initial feeling was frustration that the university was taking over my city. I wondered if other Azusa residents felt that way about it. However, after I attended summer school on the APU campus in middle school, I developed an affinity for the university. I took classes on West Campus and felt comfortable there.
I believe that APU is, contrary to various rumors, very much appreciated by Azusa residents. Students really do want to help the community. There are many organizations on campus that work with students at local schools and in other areas of the city. Students also go into the city to be a part of certain service programs.
One of the more well-known programs in Azusa is Homework House. According to its website, the group’s mission is to “help Azusa’s economically and educationally at-risk PK-12 students to advance academically in a supportive setting through parent involvement, mentoring relationships, community partnerships, and spiritual support.”
According to Shana Sanchez, deputy director of Homework House, about 70 to 80 percent of volunteers at Homework House are Azusa Pacific students.
“The majority of our volunteer base is from APU,” Sanchez said. “I would say if we were not next to APU, we would not exist here in the city.”
Volunteers help kids with homework, play games with them and give them someone to talk to when they may not have that at home. A lot of special bonds have been formed through this program. Sanchez is happy to see that APU continues to grow in their efforts to serve the Azusa community.
“I am an APU alum, so it really encourages me to see that that spirit of service hasn’t stopped at APU,” Sanchez said. “To see them connect with our kids and give them their own story and their life … they had a journey that brought them to APU and higher education, and I love it when I see them sharing that with our kids so it can inspire our kids to think about college.”
Sanchez said APU and Azusa are tied together and that when one grows, the other grows with it.
“I think APU’s story is very much written into the city of Azusa’s story, so when it grows, the city has to grow and it does adapt to changes that are made on campus and how many students they admit,” Sanchez said. “I would say a lot of the development in this city has been because of APU.”
The university has brought great things to Azusa and both the students and the city are benefiting from it. APU graduate student and Azusa resident Marie Millares recognizes that APU’s additions to the city are great for both parties.
“With more students coming to APU, you have to expand somehow,” Millares said. “Because the university is growing, Target and new food places were built around the city. Not only does it help the students of the university, but it also helps the city of Azusa and it makes our city look a lot brighter and nicer.”
These new businesses that continue to be built around the city appreciate the students of APU because, well, how could you complain about more customers?
“APU is very important to the city of Azusa,” Dalia’s general manager, Firas Diyab, said. “For all of the businesses around Azusa, it’s really important to have APU there, growing, and bringing more people. Bringing more people to the city is great for every business around here.”
Do all Azusa residents think APU is only sunshine and butterflies? Well, no. According to Sanchez, rumors float around families whenever a new place is being built, an old place is being torn down, or some sort of construction is taking place.
These changes include the recent move of Homework House to Foothill Community Church, previously meeting at various locations around the city. However, according to Sanchez, there is no evidence of APU having any part of this.
Sanchez said the Metro Gold Line will run right in front of one of the former Homework House locations, which caused the landowners to want remodeling done. Remodeling meant the price of rent would increase, which was not something Homework House could afford. At the location on Sixth Street near Santana’s Mexican restaurant, the individual land owners did not take care of the buildings and the city had to step in and make changes due to the location not being up to code. Those buildings ended up being knocked down.
Rumors are just rumors.
APU and its students make great strides to help the city of Azusa, and as long as the university does not push the numbers of enrollment to the point where it needs more housing, there will not be any problems.
If APU continues to push the city’s boundaries by buying more property and if people lose their homes as a result of this, then there will be problems. The university should be wary and conscious of that.
I love my city, I love the people of my city, and I highly appreciate those who cater to the needs of the city. I used to hear many people say how ghetto Azusa was, but luckily, it has been quite some time since I last heard someone say that. I am thankful for the efforts APU has made to help make this city cleaner and more enjoyable.