Meet the Staff: Nathan Smith, Our CPO

Ever wonder what fuels the fire in the hearts of our staff for the homeless and hurting? Starting this month, we’ll be introducing you to the outstanding men and women who work tirelessly to see lives transformed – to get a peek into what brought them to the Mission and what keeps them going.

Ask anyone on campus and they’ll tell you: Nathan Smith has a huge heart for the homeless. But it didn’t start out that way.

“I wasn’t necessarily callous to helping people with great needs,” Nathan remembers. “I just never paid any attention to that as a kid.” It wasn’t until his first missions trip to India that his life, and his heart, changed forever. Nathan not only found his calling while he was in India, he found his wife – who was serving in the medical clinics of the same missions’ field.

“Years later, I was having trouble getting out to India to continue my mission work because I was building a family here. That’s when I was challenged by my grandmother-in-law to do more work locally. I started working with the homeless, which blossomed into a church ministry. From there, I met Jay Cory (former President and CEO of Phoenix Rescue Mission) who got me started at an entry-level position at the Mission.”

At the Mission, Nathan flourished. In just six short years, he’s risen through the ranks from Project Coordinator to Project Manager to Director of Community Engagement. During that time, he was instrumental in the expansion of the Mission’s reach into regions like Glendale, where he and his team saved the city’s largest food bank from closing for good.

Nathan’s team reopened Hope For Hunger Food Bank and increased the output of the previous ownership by more than 50% – serving more than 160 families per day under his watch. He was also a key player in the formation of Glendale Works, an integrated workforce development program aimed at reducing homelessness in Glendale by providing homeless individuals day-work cleaning city property.

In May, he accepted the position of Chief Program Officer!

God has put me in these different spots to expose me to what it means to be a leader, what it means to work with people who are really, really down and out and it’s prepared me to take that on at a higher administrative level. I couldn’t be more thankful for the path He put me on to get here.

Congratulations on your promotion, Nathan. We can’t wait to see how God uses you next!

What didn’t kill Sergio pushes him to save others

“It was excruciatingly hot. I always did what I could to stay out of the sun.”

Sergio knows how dangerous it is to be caught on our sweltering summer streets. For five long years, he did what he could to keep cool, to keep hydrated – to stay alive.

“I would stay in abandoned trailers and sometimes hide out in the library. I’d only come out once the sun went down to search for businesses with spigots to get water.”

Thanks to God’s mercy and Sergio’s resourcefulness, he survived. But others haven’t been so fortunate. Last year, the heat claimed the lives of 197 individuals in Maricopa County* – the highest ever recorded – and this year is shaping up to be even more deadly.

Thankfully, the way out you provided Sergio didn’t just save his life. Today he’s back out on the streets with Code:Red and the Hope Coach on a new mission – to save others before it’s too late.

Sergio’s story begins in childhood. He’s been struggling with addiction ever since he was eight years old.

“I’ve been to numerous programs, but never experienced more than 3 months of sobriety. Just constantly relapsing and getting worse every time.”

His family tried their best to help, but found themselves at a loss.

“They didn’t know what to do with me. My brothers and sisters are all successful hard workers. Then you got me coming around with two kids, in the middle of a separation, drunk and addicted…”

Eventually, his family kicked him out and Sergio became homeless.

“I started smoking meth on a daily basis. When that happened, things got really crazy. I was hearing voices, thinking crazy stuff, having terrible episodes and believing they were true. I was hungry and digging out of dumpsters every day. The meth messed my mind up so bad, I thought people were making fun of me, that they were talking about me, that they were inside my head, listening to everything I was thinking.”

Thankfully, his family recommended he give Phoenix Rescue Mission a try.

“After five years, I was done. I could see I wasn’t able to stop my drinking and drug use on my own. I wanted out of the heat, away from the hunger and the shame. I was ready to walk though those gates.”

What he found inside changed everything.

“I’ve tried recovery so many times. But this time it’s different. Here I’m around brothers who really want to change, leaders who really care about me, and about everyone else’s well-being. If something was missed, it’s quickly dealt with. That’s different. I’m used to a lot of shadiness, manipulation, to the point where people are using drugs in the program and getting away with it. There’s none of that here.”

When asked what makes the Mission’s recovery program different from his attempts at recovery in the past, there’s no hesitation.

The main difference was where they pointed me to – they pointed me to Christ. They taught me to open up the Bible. Now, if I have a craving or a crazy thought, I give it to God. It’s encouraging seeing other guys doing the same thing and watching the Holy Spirit move them into success.”

Today, Sergio is a proud graduate of our recovery program. He’s sober, he’s completed our Servant Leadership Training and even our rigorous Ministry Training programs.

“My family came to the graduation and they’re all super proud of me, especially my mom and dad. I could see it in their faces. It’s always been a struggle between me and my parents. I thank God every day that they can finally see me going in the right direction.”

Now that he’s sober and safely off the streets, Sergio is making his return as the newest member of our Street Outreach team. Monday through Friday, you can find him out on the Hope Coach giving others a chance to find the help and hope he’s found at Phoenix Rescue Mission.

“I love it! We’re connecting with people out there, giving them water, hygiene supplies and right now, because of the coronavirus situation, we’re handing out sack lunches to anyone who is hungry. It’s building that relationship with these people who are struggling, and meeting them where they are: in parks, outside stores, and in washes all throughout the city.”

And not a moment too soon – things are already heating up.

April 26th through May 1st represented the second-longest streak of consecutive triple-digit days in April in Phoenix since 1896, and marks only the third time in recorded history we’ve experienced five or more 100-degree days in April. Summer is still four weeks away, but the deadly triple digits are already here.

But with the prayers and support of friends like you, despite the heat, despite the virus, hope is moving forward – for Sergio and for hundreds more just like him this summer.

“It’s a blessing. It’s definitely not something I would have ever envisioned for myself. I was just looking for sobriety, but recovery is so much more than that, it’s growing in seeking the Lord, depending on Him and being a vessel for Jesus Christ.”

*“Heat-Associated Deaths in Maricopa County, AZ Final Report for 2019.” Heat Reports | Maricopa County, AZ, Maricopa County Department of Public Health, 2019, www.maricopa.gov/ArchiveCenter/ViewFile/Item/4959

Despite the Pandemic, the Hope Coach Travels On

It’s 8am. Hope Coach drivers Sarah Snead and Brian Farretta load up with hygiene packs, water bottles and other supplies as they prepare to hit the road. Their excitement is palpable.

Just a couple of summers ago, they would have been on their own. But today, they’re part of a team of six street outreach case managers offering services throughout Phoenix and much of the West Valley.

“We get up in the morning ready to go,” says Brian, “knowing that we’re about to make a difference and give God the glory.

God tends to move in amazing ways on the Hope Coach and today will be no different. Although COVID-19 has altered how they interact with men and women on the street, it hasn’t affected their resolve to reach the least, the last, and the lost.

Virus or not – Hope must move forward.

You might remember Brian from the cover of our March Newsletter last year – a man who was at the end of his rope, until a Facebook post from an old friend and a referral to Phoenix Rescue Mission saved his life. Now he’s giving back by sharing what he’s been given through the Hope Coach.

“I love it, I absolutely love it,” says Brian. “I like connecting with people. I like the evangelism part of it. I was rescued from so much, and I want people to know that we serve a God who can do that for anybody.

Sarah shares a similar past. “I didn’t know how to handle some life trauma and I started dabbling with drugs ‘til I couldn’t control it anymore. When I was 20, I started selling. Our house got raided and I ended up in prison for four years.”

While incarcerated, she found a relationship with Christ that changed her heart. Shortly after, she met Melissa Sheller, Director of Volunteer and Inmate Reentry Ministries, and joined the Mission working in Donor Care.

“When I found out about the Hope Coach and being able to connect with people on the streets who are suffering, I felt like the Lord was telling me, ‘This is where you need to be.’

Now, Monday through Friday, Sarah and Brian hit the streets looking for opportunities to transform lives.

“There are a lot who don’t receive it,” Brian admits, “but man, the ones who do! I love going into the Mission and seeing someone in Servant Leadership Training or Ministry Training who I originally picked up in the Hope Coach. Just seeing them thriving with a true heart’s desire to serve the Lord, man, it just doesn’t get any better than that.”

On the road, we drive by a young woman in a coat. Immediately Brian recognizes her, exclaims, “Hey, that’s Misty!” and pulls over. Misty was one who didn’t make it. Brian picked her up a year ago, helped her enroll at the Phoenix Rescue Mission’s Changing Lives Center, and prayed for the best. For a while, she thrived. But then she fell in with a group of girls who wanted to leave and quickly ended up back on the street.

Today, God gave him a second chance to see a life transform. After some catching up, Misty says she’s ready and Brian sets her up for an appointment for a pickup at 2:30 that afternoon. They also meet Mike, who you can tell is on the fence about coming in for recovery. He tells stories about having to sleep with one eye open. He knows it’s not safe out there. While Sarah and Brian minister to others, he returns over and over again to ask more questions about the program, but in the end, Mike decides he’s not ready.

“He knows he’s got a drug problem. We can help with that,” Brian relates with an obviously heavy heart. “We offered him a safe bed and a warm meal. But he’s still willing to sleep outside with one eye open every night just to stay high. That’s how badly this stuff has a hold on people. Until they come to that point where they say this is not me, this isn’t what I was meant to do, it’s hard to change.”

While this wasn’t the day for Mike, the services the Hope Coach provides have evolved over the years to be more relational. As a result, more are leaving the streets in search of hope.

“It’s a lot different now than it used to be,” says Sarah. “Before, it was more meeting people, giving them water and food and connecting with the homeless population that way. Now there’s more case management. We offer ID vouchers, help people get birth certificates, we’ve got options to house people. It’s more of an intimate relationship to try and get them out of their current situation and into a better one.”

With your support, we’ve expanded our reach as well. Today, there are four vehicles in the Hope Coach program, reaching homeless and hurting individuals across the Valley. From Peoria to South Phoenix and Sunnyslope to Goodyear, we’re spreading hope to more locations than we ever have before.

“Let’s find the problem, meet their needs by fixing their addiction problem, help them recover from trauma, all through the hope found in Christ,” says Sarah. “You just keep planting seeds and watering ‘til they’re ready. When they finally take it, that’s when people get better. That’s why we do it.”

*Note: The photos of Brian and Sarah were taken prior to the CDC guidelines surrounding COVID-19 being announced, which is why they are not wearing masks or practicing social distancing.

Code:RED Appreciation Luncheon

Code:Red Success

Mission Accomplished!

This year marks seven years of Code:Red. That’s seven summers our community has come together to save the lives of our homeless neighbors caught in the deadly heat. Each year gets better and better and 2019 is no different. This summer, we distributed more than 900,000 bottles of life-saving water, gathered through more than 120 drives, to those who needed it most. And we have you to thank for it!

But it’s more than water that keeps people safe – through your matching gift this summer we also provided relief through nutritious food, sunscreen, hats, and more, designed to help the homeless beat our record-breaking heat.

You made sure our streets were awash with hope and help this summer – thank you for the prayers, volunteer hours and support that made this Code:Red another resounding
success!