Brad Larson Noelle Larson

Brad Larson (far right) is the Senior Executive Pastor at Gateway Church in Scottsdale and the Founder of I Heart Scottsdale. He and his wife Noelle Larson (far left) live in Scottsdale and have four kids together.

GoDaddy executive-turned-pastor Brad Larson has made it his mission to create and foster community, not just within his church Gateway Church Scottsdale but throughout the entire area.

He’s doing through his free gift box, I Heart Scottsdale and his recently launched app, Qnnection.

“I believe we were created for connection,” said Senior Executive Pastor Larson, a Scottsdale resident of 17 years.

Delivered to new Scottsdale residents who sign up for it, I Heart Scottsdale is a free gift box filled with local goodies – including gift cards and freebies at local businesses such as AZ on the Rocks, Mellow Mushroom, Athlete’s Territory, Barre3 and Sweet Provisions & Sweet Republic.

“The idea came to me in 2006 when I started to notice that so many people in Scottsdale were from some other part of the United States,” Larson explained. “While the sunshine and beautiful weather was so appealing, I noticed that people needed community, connection, and a way to be unified in their diversity.”

Since I Heart Scottsdale launched about a year and a half ago, they’ve given away more than 1,000 boxes.

According to I Heart Scottsdale Project Manager Samantha Lesar, about 10 percent of the Scottsdale residents they reach out to sign up to receive the boxes on I Heart Scottsdale’s website.

“It’s truly a gift that we’re putting in people’s hands,” said Lesar, also a Scottsdale resident. “Every month, a fleet of 1,000 new people move into Scottsdale zip codes, whether it’s renting or owning.”

Larson said the creation of I Heart Scottsdale came from a need to develop a “love of place,” specifically for a city he’s personally grown to love.

“My family has owned and operated several local businesses in Arizona, serving this community and providing jobs and connection here. I watched as people had a stigma regarding Scottsdale,” Larson explained. 

“My experience in meeting so many wonderful people caused me to want to help provide a way for people to see the beauty in the city,” he said.

Also part of Hope + Wholeness Media, the Qnnection app launched this February and has since been downloaded more than 1,600 times.

The app, which took about three months to create in-house, features more than 1,000 questions across seven categories: engage, discover, connect, big-picture, married, and dating.

The questions range in depth and seriousness, and each category boasts nearly 300 open-ended questions designed to help users build relationships and, well, connect.

“Questions are like keys that unlock the heart and mind of individuals,” Larson said.

“Imagine what this city could feel like if the people all around us took notice, cared to know more about us, and didn’t just pass by so quickly,” he continued. “I believe that is what happens with conversations, it builds connection and ultimately a community that we are proud to be a part of.”

The app can be used anywhere and with anyone: at the dinner table, on dates, with friends.

Larson uses it on road trips with his family.

“It has allowed us to grow deeper and learn more about each other,” he said.

Larson’s favorite memory of using the app so far is when he used it with a woman in her 90’s.

“The questions unlocked her childhood memories, and as we talked, she began to tear up thinking about precious moments of her life” he recalled. “That just made me realize how simple and profound this tool can be.”

The Qnnection team plans to add another kid-friendly category to the app, within the next couple of months.

“That’s the biggest thing we’re cooking up is making a category with grade-school appropriate questions,” Lesar said.

“We need to fill our parks with a spirit of optimism and do it in an intentional way. There are so many amazing people here that I have had the honor of meeting. I think we need more people to know one another and not just live next to each other,” he said.

The Qnnection app is free and available for download in the Google Play and Apple App Store.

Information: iheartscottsdale.com, qnnection.com