Where Are They Now: Justice 4 Years Later…

Back in 2015, Justice lost everything: his job, his home, even the custody of his three daughters. Worse, it was summer. The streets would soon turn deadly hot, and Justice had no place to go.

Sweating on the corner of 27th Ave. and Northern, Justice reached out to his older brother in Nashville, who had been in and out of penitentiaries, for help. He was shocked to hear he had checked into a homeless shelter, the Nashville Rescue Mission, where he managed to kick his drug habits and establish a newfound relationship with Jesus Christ.

“He said there was a rescue mission in almost every major city,” says Justice. “I told him that was all well and good for Nashville, but there wasn’t anything like that here.”

Right after he hung up the phone, almost as if on cue, Chaplain Cliff pulled up in the Phoenix Rescue Mission Hope Coach. Justice enrolled in our men’s recovery program, found Christ, broke free from his addiction and even earned back full custody of his daughters within the next year.

But that was four years ago. Where is he now?

Soon after he graduated, Justice found a position at the largest construction materials manufacturer in North America. Today he’s a shipping foreman, a position second only to the head of the company.

Meanwhile, his relationship with his daughters has grown by leaps and bounds. He became a proud grandfather this past January. But through all the success, he hasn’t forgotten where it started.

“I go back to the Mission as often as I can to talk to the guys, especially the ones in foundations. Last time was on my birthday back in December. These guys are just a few weeks sober, so there’s a lot going on in their heads."

"It’s good to see somebody who’s more than four years sober, with a reunified family, actually making it in the real world. They’re like, ‘Oh, yeah. I can see where God is going to carry me like this.’”

In addition to being a testament to God’s transforming power, Justice is also a prime example of how transformation always creates a ripple effect.

“My older brother, who told me to find a rescue mission in Phoenix, he’s doing super awesome. Loves the Lord. But get this. We talked to our other brother, who was the only one left suffering from addiction and got him to go to the Nashville Rescue Mission. His wife went to the women’s center and they both graduated. Now they both work for that mission and have been doing well for more than a year!”

This Easter, as we celebrate the event that makes stories like this possible, we want to take a moment to thank you for passing on this precious gift to hundreds just like Justice every year.

“My mom can sit back now and not have to worry. All her kids are doing great. She’s so thankful to the Lord every day. It blows her mind. To sit there and look at us, she tears up almost every time. God is good!”

Q&A with Our New CEO, Ken Brissa

Ken Brissa

Ken Brissa joins Phoenix Rescue Mission as an accomplished nonprofit and for-profit senior executive with more than 25 years of executive leadership, fundraising, board development, budget and program management, organizational strategy, and continuous improvement experience.

He has a proven record of success as a leader, inspiring and developing high performing teams, cultivating relationships, managing staff and volunteers, building impactful community and constituent relations, and driving effective local and national collaboration.

Q&A with Ken Brissa

What ties do you have to Phoenix? Why does serving at a local ministry in this particular city excite you?

After spending our entire lives in the Chicagoland area my wife and I were ready to say goodbye to winter. I traveled to Phoenix three or four times for work in my late twenties and loved everything about it so we knew it was a matter of when and not if we’d someday move to the Valley. We moved to Phoenix in 2006 and we’re incredibly blessed that our three children and two grandchildren all live here as well and are close-by.

Serving and working at a local ministry in Phoenix is something God has been putting on my heart for some time. I knew He wanted me to take my professional experiences and successes and bring them to an organization where I could help grow His kingdom.

 

Are there any particular passions or key values you bring to the table?

I believe the foundation of a successful organization is collaboration – getting the right people involved in the right things at the right time. This not only leads to better outcomes but builds better understanding, buy-in, trust and commitment to the organization and its mission.

I believe as a leader in this role it is my responsibility to remove obstacles that are preventing our staff and volunteers from being successful, to identify each person’s unique abilities to effectively contribute, and ultimately to help the people on my team grow. This means they significantly grow professionally, personally and spiritually under my guidance and so much so that they are promotable either within our organization or another. While it would be unfortunate for us if they move on to another organization, we would have had the benefit of their talent and the outcomes they helped create while they were here.

 

What are a few things that drew you to the CEO position at PRM?

Most importantly the thing that drew me to the CEO role at PRM was the opportunity to be both an operational and a spiritual leader. This is something God has called me to do in this season of my life. When I read the position description for the first time I told my wife, “You have to read this!” It was as if God wrote a personalized account of the role He was holding for me.

The opportunity and ability to quite literally save both earthly and eternal lives is a responsibility I nor the staff and volunteers at Phoenix Rescue Mission take lightly. The people that I’ve met so far are talented, anointed, passionate professionals and children of God. I’m blessed and looking forward to working side-by-side with them.

 

What are a few things that are happening at PRM that excite you?

There are so many things that excite me.  One being the way in which PRM serves its clients and offers programs that focus on healing the total person that help truly transform their lives. From recovery to vocational development, counseling and mentoring, and all services in-between Phoenix Rescue Mission truly offers a hand-up, not a hand-out.

I’m excited to be part of the construction of the new building and expansion of the Transforming Lives Center for Men. We are at capacity today and more men in the Valley need our services and need to know God. This expansion will allow us to touch more lives and significantly increase the impact PRM makes in these men and our community.

 

Do you have a vision for Phoenix Rescue Mission’s future?

My personal vision for PRM’s future is in lockstep with that of the organization – to transform lives while transforming our city.  We’ll continue to work with partner organizations to fulfill this vision while building new partnerships and relationships to grow our impact.

 

What is the story of your spiritual walk?

Knowing Christ has led me to this role – He has placed every experience, no matter how small or significant, in my path for a time such as this.

I grew up believing in God and knowing that Jesus Christ was my savior, but I did not have a relationship with Jesus. I recited prayers, more than usual when something bad like a family illness or national tragedy was going on, attended church on Sunday, etc. It wasn’t until we finally accepted one of many invitations from some dear friends to join their family at their church that I truly began to know Christ.

I had never experienced an evangelical, non-denominational worship and message service.  During worship that first time I was so uncomfortable and wondered to myself, “Why in the world are these people singing, jumping and raising their hands in the air?” I thought, “This is not for me!” Then the pastor started his message. I told my wife later that afternoon that I felt bad for the other 200 people in the room because the pastor was talking directly to me. We started serving in the church, joined and later led Small Groups and grew our relationship with Christ. Fast forward to the present I am on the board of my home church in Scottsdale and I was a guest speaker and delivered my first message there in October 2019.

 

Is there anything you enjoy doing here in Arizona?

Hiking Camelback Mountain and walking around Chaparral Park are two favorites. We need to make it a priority to discover new hiking trails.

 

Favorite sports and teams?

My favorite teams are the Chicago Cubs and Chicago Bears with the Diamondbacks and Cardinals a close second.  I like watching football most and love playing baseball and golf.  It’s strange though to love golf as much as I do and be as bad at it as I am.

Where Are They Now: Michele 5 Years Later

In 2015, Michele was addicted, depressed and suicidal. Thankfully, her aunt suggested finding help at Phoenix Rescue Mission’s Changing Lives Center. It’s a decision that saved her life.

“I had this attitude and this demeanor about me that was so self-destructive,” said Michele. “This place has changed me. I’m not angry, I’m not bitter anymore. I look at myself now and I just shake my head. I don’t know who that person was.”

Thanks to your support, Michele thrived at the Mission. She not only graduated from our recovery program, she completed our Servant Leadership course and our rigorous Ministry Training program. You even helped her earn custody back of her two-year-old son, Brody, and gave her the tools she needed to become a great mother.

But that was five years ago. Where is she now?

We’re happy to report that Michele is better than back on her feet – she’s pursuing her dreams.

“Writing has always been a passion of mine. But throughout my life, I set it aside because I was always trying to make everyone else happy. What I learned was, it’s important to make Michele happy too.”

She enrolled in Phoenix College to work on her dream. She found a job as an administrative assistant at the Salvation Army through the Celebrate Recovery program. Little did she know that the skills she learned there would prepare her for a position at Power Trade Media, a publisher of trade magazines.
“I mostly do administrative work but I’ve also got my foot in the door on the writing side of things. Our company produces an aviation newsletter where I get to do a little bit of editing, and interview pilots. It’s an exciting time for me, because it’s something I really want to do.”

Amid her success, there’s the Mission. She still keeps up with the friends she’s made in recovery and attends Alumni functions, including our camping trip a few months ago.

Today, she has her own apartment, she’s getting close to finishing her business degree, and things are looking bright indeed for Michele and her son. It’s truly amazing what God can do.

But it’s important to remember that stories like this don’t happen by accident. Without God’s grace and the prayers and support of friends like you, Michele’s could have been a very different story.

“This program saved my life. It saved my son’s life. With unconditional love, I was able to beat the odds and move forward.”

Thank you for the partnership that continues to make true transformation possible in the lives of the men and women we serve, and God bless!

Where are they now? Tiffany 5 years later…

When Tiffany Sorenson graced the cover of our newsletter back in January of 2014, we told her story of repeated success and failure. Despite reinventing herself again and again, she could never get past the unhealed emotional wounds from her past or the alcoholism that always accompanied it.

Over the years, her addiction had cost her peace, a college degree, employment and eventually, her hope for the future.

“At one point I needed two 99-proof shots in the morning just to even out,” she admitted. “Peace was missing inside me and I stopped trying to figure out how to get it back.”

That is, until she connected with the Phoenix Rescue Mission’s Changing Lives Center. With the support of our counselors and staff, Tiffany was able to confront and overcome the root of her addiction for the first time in her life! But that was five years ago. Where is Tiffany now?

The simple answer is: busy!

Even before leaving the Phoenix Rescue Mission, Tiffany was busy giving back. In her final months, she worked for Safe Haven, a shelter for mentally ill homeless adults, and went back to school to finish the double major of psychology in criminal justice her addiction had forced her to give up on.

She graduated soon after, with honors and a 3.8 GPA, in 2015. Bachelor’s degree in hand, she earned a position as a case manager at Terros Health where, eight short months later, she was promoted to team leader as a clinical coordinator, leading one of the best performing teams in her clinic. While she worked at Terros Health, she also interned at Catholic Charities as a domestic violence counselor, and later at Chicanos Por La Causa Corozon as a substance abuse counselor.

At the same time, Tiffany started down the path of earning her Master’s degree in Social Work from ASU, adding an additional 20 hours of classes and study time to her already busy schedule, and graduated in 2017. Whew!

Today she serves as a therapist for Terros Health and is still hard at work improving herself and her ability to help others around her. She and her fiancé bought their first home 18 months ago and have set a date to get married in May!

But through all her success, Tiffany hasn’t forgotten where her life turned a corner or the friends she made while she was here. She keeps connected with other alumni through Facebook and the occasional lunch to catch up.

Tiffany’s is more than a life changed. Throughout her career, she will go on to touch and change more lives than we could ever have imagined. God’s mercy, your support and Tiffany’s hard work made that happen. We’re so proud of Tiffany! And we’re thankful for your support that gave her the chance to shine.

Talking Turkey: How turkey changed Fred’s life

What spurs people to volunteer comes in many different forms. Sometimes it’s the urge to right wrongs, or the need to share the love that overflows from their hearts.

For Fred, it was turkey.

“When I retired, I got a postcard from Phoenix Rescue Mission asking if I would donate a turkey for their Thanksgiving turkey drive.”

Thinking that was a fine idea, he picked up some frozen birds and looked forward to giving a couple of families a brighter Thanksgiving.

But God has a way of multiplying our efforts, sometimes, in ways we could never imagine. Fred didn’t know it, but the simple act of delivering those turkeys would change his life – and, with your help, the lives of hundreds more he hadn’t yet met.

“I brought my turkeys to an open house at the Mission. While I was there, I took a tour and when I saw all the amazing things they did, I told them to sign me up! I put my toe in first. Then my foot and then my leg, then both legs… I’m pretty well submerged now!” Fred says with a laugh.

That was three years ago, and Fred hasn’t looked back since. Today you’ll find him at the front of the line at our Hope for Hunger food bank where, up to five days a week, he’s assisting hundreds of families and individuals who come looking for food and hope.

“We greet them with hugs and smiles and ‘God bless you’s’, which, in our society, you have to be careful where you use that term. But around here, it’s not only allowed, it's encouraged!"

Like other volunteers can attest, service does so much more for Fred than what he feels it does for those he serves. When his friends question the number of hours he’s put in, he just smiles and shares one of the many stories that warm his heart and keep him coming back.

“I’ll never forget, a week or two before Christmas, an elderly gal came in a little apprehensive. She had never been here before. I greeted her and I put my arm on her back and said, ‘Dear, we’ll take good care of you. We’ve got lots of food today and we’ll fill this cart up.’ I watched her go around the circle, filling up the cart, and when she was getting ready to leave, I called out, ‘God bless you and have a Merry Christmas!’ Well, she stopped the line right there, walked over and gave me one of the most sincere hugs I’ve ever had in my life! I’ll never forget that.”

With the holidays approaching, we’ll soon see more families coming through our doors than at any other time of the year. That sobering thought has got Fred thinking. Turkey is what brought him to the Mission and with Thanksgiving right around the corner, turkey is still forefront on his mind.

“It’s an important time for everyone, especially families. Turkeys can feed a family for a good long while. I remember last year, thinking how exciting it was going to be because we were supposed to have 500 turkeys to distribute. When I pulled in to Hope for Hunger that morning, there were at least 300 vehicles outside waiting. To make a long story short, we fell far short of our goal last year.”

Fred is determined not to let that happen this year.

“I’ve already started making contacts to make sure of it. I’d like to get some corporate support and help from individuals and churches. If they could donate 10 or 20 turkeys or whatever they can possibly do, I’ll pick them up and we’ll have a turkey for every family this year. Our goal is 500 turkeys, but maybe we can do more. If so, that’d be wonderful. The need is definitely there.”

The other thing on Fred’s mind is the need for volunteers.

“We have a good crew, we have a lot of fun, there’s a lot of laughing, and a lot of teasing. But we don’t have nearly enough volunteers. You really need 10-12 people per shift back there to make it flow. Last Friday, when there were just four of us, it was tough. It makes it difficult.”

With three two-hour shifts, that’s 30 volunteers a day needed to keep Hope for Hunger humming along. If you’ve never had the opportunity to watch someone’s face light up when you hand them a box of much-needed food, take a moment to join Fred and the crew by visiting our volunteer page at prm.volunteerhub.com and signing up today!