A Return to Recovery | Brandon’s Story

Three years ago, Brandon was running amok in Show Low, drinking and doing drugs with abandon. It wasn’t until he ended up in prison that he realized he had been caught by the same trap as his cousin Danny.

“I remember hearing from my parents about Danny growing up. Sometimes we would overhear them saying, ‘Danny messed up again,’ and we all knew what that meant. But then I found out that he was doing really well. (So well in fact that he’s managing our Hope for Hunger Food Bank, see cover story.) And I wondered what happened. That’s how I found out about Phoenix Rescue Mission.”

After nine months, Brandon was released into rehab. Figuring that what had worked for his cousin would work for him, he enrolled in our Men’s Recovery Program. But he soon found out that recovery is more than just going through the motions.

“When I graduated, I left campus and pretty much fell flat on my face. I went back to drinking and taking pills almost immediately. That’s when I realized that I hadn’t been honest with anyone during recovery. I just told the counselors and staff what they wanted to hear.”

“I was honest with them. I told them I had relapsed and they recommended I start the program over from square one.

Looking back, it was the best decision I’ve made.”

"But there was something different this time. Even though I was back to doing drugs, God convicted my heart each time I did it, and it just got worse each time. I knew I had to go back.”

Recovery is a long road, full of ups and downs. Just as Christ grants us all the grace to return to Him time and time again, every graduate knows the doors are always open to them at Phoenix Rescue Mission if they stumble.

During his recovery, and before Covid forced us to close our Mission Possible Café temporarily, he found that working in the kitchen both complemented his studies and gave him a new perspective.

“I had a lot of animosity in my heart toward authority figures. I didn’t like them telling me what to do. As I worked in the Café, my attitude began to change. I started seeing how it wasn’t them versus me, it was us working together. They showed me how criticism can be constructive and to not take things personally. They basically helped me become an adult, to see the bigger picture, and I started loving going to work. Once you begin putting God first, everything changes and you start to transform.

Today, Brandon has completed recovery for a second time, but for the first time with an openness and honesty that has given him a real foundation for a new life. He’s found a steady job and is looking forward to graduation in October. He’s saving for a car and his future is looking bright, thanks to the grace afforded by friends like you.

Recovered 5 Years Ago: Where Are They Now?

It seemed like Lance and Dawn had been running from their problems all of their lives.

“We knew we had a problem with alcohol,” says Lance. “It got to the point where I was making sure we had vodka in the morning to avoid the shakes and the withdrawals. When it got too bad, we’d move somewhere else, thinking we’d be able to stop drinking.” It was an idea that they tried over and over again.

“We lived in Idaho, Utah, Oregon, Washington, Hawaii, California… but the whole time, we were the problem. You can’t move away from yourself!” Lance laughs.

It was during a move to Oregon that they reached the end of the road. Their car broke down. Reaching out to friends and family, they formed a plan to head to Phoenix. But only one of them would get there.

“We got as far as Vegas where we got into a fight and separated. I called my sister, who got me a plane ticket to Texas, and Lance continued on,” says Dawn. “I didn’t know it at the time, but he ended up at the Mission.”

I got in and it was just what I needed,” Lance remembers. “I was able to put the world on pause and study the Bible. The great pastors here helped me through. The whole time I was praying that my wife was okay. One day, out of the blue, Pastor Gabe found me and said, ‘God put this on my heart. We need to find your wife.’” Working together, they found Dawn through an old email account.

“When we got to talk on the phone, I told her, ‘You’re not going to believe this, but I found what we were searching for. I found the answer.’ And she took her last paycheck, flew to Phoenix and we got her into the Phoenix Rescue Mission’s Changing Lives Center.”

But that was five years ago. Did the transformation take? Or was Phoenix just another stop on a long road of addiction?

We’re happy to report that both Lance and Dawn have been clean and sober for the past six years! After being baptized and graduating from our recovery program in 2015, they moved back to Texas for a bit, but are back in Phoenix and planning to stay.

“Coming here was the greatest decision we ever made,” they say. “We should be dead or in jail. I mean both of us have been hospitalized before because of alcohol, but here we are. It changed our lives! Sobriety is just a fringe benefit of the relationship with Christ that we found here. We’re doing great, our marriage is great, and it’s because of the Mission.

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.

Are you a healthy giver?

Are you a healthy giver?

How you can make a REAL difference this Christmas

During the giving season, more than any other time of the year, we all want to help our fellow brothers and sisters. But are you a healthy giver?

That’s a question we all need to ask before we hand our next $5 bill to someone on the street.

Jerome Parker, of the Healthy Giving Council (of which Phoenix Rescue Mission is a part) is doing his best to get the word out ahead of the crowds this holiday season. “We urge people to not give money or food on the street,” says Jerome. “It’s much more helpful to direct them to an  organization that already provides meals, clothing, and recovery programs set up to close the gap between those who are homeless and permanent housing.”

It may seem counter-intuitive, but feeding someone on the streets does more harm than good. It often leads to discarded trash in our neighborhoods (53 tons of it was collected off the streets between Thanksgiving and Christmas last year) and enables the homeless to avoid help for one more day. It even changes the way we think about the people we are hoping to help. “Street giving and feeding puts us in a frame of mind,” he says, “where we begin to see the homeless as less human. If we’re honest, we know that burger or dollar bill we hand out isn’t going to change  anything.

We do it to make ourselves feel better. We need to ask: Is what we are doing bringing this person closer to, or further away from, ending their homelessness?”

Here are a few easy ways to be a healthy giver!

  1. Hand out the enclosed Rescue Referral cards instead of food or cash when you see someone in need. Including a $4 bus pass is even better (bus passes can be purchased at most gas stations and grocery stores).
  2.  Help provide food, clothing, spiritual guidance, addiction recovery, counseling, education assistance, job training, and so much more by supporting the efforts of the Phoenix Rescue Mission.
  3. Become a volunteer by visiting prm.volunteerhub.com and give your time and energy by serving with us on the front lines.

 

Together, we can make a real difference in the lives of the men and women we see on our streets this holiday season!

Download your own rescue referral cards to print at home by clicking the image below.