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.

A Prescription for Pain: Darin’s Story

It was a bright sunny day when it happened. Darin, who was 28, had just purchased a house in Chandler and was hard at work making it a home. He was hauling rock around his new yard when, suddenly, burning pain ran down his right leg. He quickly set down the wheelbarrow, but the pain didn’t go away.

Not that day, not the next, not for the next seven years.

The doctors told him he had lifted too much. He had compressed the disks in his back to the point that he crushed the nerves that led to his right leg.

“I was in a lot of pain, it was horrible. But I’ll never forget when my doctor said to me, ‘Here, just take this stuff.’”

From pill one, Darin knew he was in trouble.

“I took the painkillers that first night and pretty quick, I knew I was in trouble. It was such a good feeling. It wasn’t just the pain, every single problem I had just went away.”

Darin went from doctor to doctor looking for a safer, more permanent solution. But after 20 MRIs, no one could pinpoint exactly where the damage occurred. Until then, surgery wasn’t an option.

“Meanwhile, my tolerance for the painkillers was climbing; I needed more of them to numb the pain. So I went doctor shopping. Back then it was easy to visit different doctors, tell them about my leg and get another prescription. I didn’t think too much about it because I was legitimately in pain, but in the back of my mind in knew I was losing control.”

So did his family. They noticed the uptick in medication and arranged an intervention. They sent Darin to a rehab center where he managed to get clean. But the pain was still there. For the next year and a half, Darin would grit his teeth and bear it without the help of painkillers. Just when he was about to break, he had a breakthrough.

“This doctor took an MRI and said, ‘Yeah, I see it, there’s a little bulge right there that’s crushing the nerves.’ I couldn’t believe it; I finally had proof that I wasn’t insane.”

After seven long years, Darin finally received the surgery he needed to correct his nerve damage. But the problem was, with surgery came more painkillers.

“I was on morphine for the surgery and then OxyContin for the next month while I healed. And I was okay. But right after my back healed, I got into an accident and broke my leg. When that required surgery and more painkillers, it was too much. After four months of continued use I was hooked again.”

This time, things were more complicated. He was married, he had three kids and “doctor shopping” was no longer an option. As his addiction ramped up, so did national awareness of the opioid epidemic. He was quickly “red flagged” and had to turn to the streets for the painkillers he needed.

“When I started on the Fentanyl, my life just spiraled. I quit working. I could hardly be a parent. I was a mess. My wife was getting fed up with it. When she found the pills, she confronted me and I didn’t have an explanation, so she kicked me out. It was over. Fortunately, my brother knew someone who used to work at the Phoenix Rescue Mission. He told me, ‘No more of this. You’re going to a long-term facility with Christ.’”

Darin admits that he wasn’t thrilled.

“I thought I knew what God was about. He was someone who was just waiting to punish me for all the partying and pain that I caused. That and when I first saw this place, it looked like a prison. I told my brother, ‘There’s no way I’m going in there.’ But it was the only way to get better, to fix my relationship with my family, and hopefully with my wife. So I planned on staying for Foundations.” [the first, two-month stage of our recovery program]

But Darin found more than just recovery here; he found a relationship that changed everything.

“When I was in Inner Healing [the second stage of our recovery program], I was discussing God with Richard [one of our recovery counselors] and he told me, ‘you’ve got to look at God like he’s got this wallet and your picture is in there. He’s showing everyone in heaven like, ‘This is my son, I’m proud of him.’

He loves you like you love your kids, but so much more.

When he said that, I don’t know why, but everything clicked. A lightbulb went on and I suddenly knew in my heart that God loves me. It was amazing; I was just bawling.”

Since that day, Darin has focused on building that relationship and sharing it with the men around him. It’s changed him. Today he’s a graduate, he’s sober, and he’s walking with God on a daily basis as a part of our Servant Leadership Training program. And recently, God answered a special prayer Darin has been asking for, ever since his revelation.

“I prayed constantly that God would restore my marriage. It was over. I didn’t know what to do to fix it so I gave it to God. I told Him that, ‘If this is going to work, it’s gotta be You.’ And He did it! We’re back together, it’s going to be a long road, but I see her on weekends and we talk every day. That was all God!”

Thanks to your prayers and support Darin is back on his feet and moving forward.

“Bottom line, God has changed my heart. People say this place is holy ground. When I got here, I thought that was stupid. But no. I can’t explain it, there’s just something about this place – God is here and He’s working.”

By God’s Grace: Rejected No More [Nicole’s Story]

Kids are full of wishes, hopes, and dreams – especially around Christmas time. Many of us can remember staring at all the brightly colored presents under the tree, hoping against hope one of them was that special gift.

That wasn’t the case for Nicole. Her heart’s desire couldn’t be found under a tree. It wasn’t something that could be purchased and wrapped in a box.

“I would see other kids who had moms and dads,” she remembers, “and that’s all I wanted – a family that was stable.”

Every year she was disappointed. Every year, the decisions that were made for her and eventually, the decisions she made for herself, pushed that dream further and further from her grasp.

That is, until God’s grace and your support converged to give Nicole a gift she had long given up as impossible.

Nicole’s family was torn apart from the get go, long before she had a chance to experience the meaning of the word.

When she and her brother were still small, their mother was murdered in a domestic violence situation by an angry boyfriend. Her father, who was in prison for selling drugs, couldn’t offer any support.

“We were shifted from one family member to another,” remembers Nicole. “We didn’t know what was going on, but we knew enough that we felt the rejection.”

Time and again, she remembers suffering physical and emotional abuse at the hands of distant relatives. It was incredibly painful. But she did her best not to let it show. She wanted to be strong.

But stuffing all that emotional hurt inside turned Nicole into an angry, rebellious young girl. During her teenage years, she was in and out of jail for fighting and truancy. Her home life was a train wreck. But it was at 18, when she turned to drugs for support, that Nicole checked out completely.

“I just couldn’t stop. There was this craving, this phenomenal craving that was so powerful. I told myself, I’m going to get over this in a week or a couple of months. Just let me enjoy myself for now. But it didn’t turn out like that. I ended up running around in the streets. I was couch surfing, living in hotels, doing drugs, drinking every day.”

The desire to keep the pain at bay was so overwhelming that when she had her first kids, two daughters, she abandoned them with their father to continue to chase the party lifestyle. Years went by. In her mid-twenties she had two more children, this time two sons. Both were taken by the Department of Child Safety [DCS] at birth because of her addiction. Nicole had another daughter in 2016, Madison. Yet again, DCS took her child.

“I went back to doing drugs and a couple months later I was pregnant with my youngest son, Ray, from a different guy. My life was out of control.”

But there was something different about this pregnancy. Nicole soon began bleeding. Small amounts at first, but eventually it was enough to send her to the emergency room.

“I ended up having Ray at 26 weeks. When it happened, my bladder burst, my body went into shock, I needed blood transfusions, I thought I was going to die. I reached out to God and repented for what I had done, I told Him I wanted my kids to live a happy life. I asked him to forgive me. Then I felt the overwhelming presence of God. I woke up three days later.”

When she woke, she felt changed.

“I saw Ray fighting for his life in the hospital, connected to all the tubes and everything, and I knew I couldn’t be selfish anymore. He was fighting for his life… why couldn’t I fight for mine? The only people I had to go back to outside the hospital were my old using buddies. I didn’t want to go back there. So I reached out for help. One of the counselors pointed me to the Phoenix Rescue Mission.

Thanks to your support, Nicole’s life turned a corner that day, and she’s never looked back.

“It’s changed my life! I was able to work through the trauma from my childhood. Phoenix Rescue Mission helped me get my kids back. They advocated in court for me and wrote letters. It took a year, but I finally got them back!”

I’ve learned how to be a good parent here, how to create routines for my kids, how to pray together and have family dinners.

"We plan out family activities once a month. We go to church together. It’s a lot different from what I grew up with. Everything is centered around God.

Today she’s sober, a graduate of our recovery program, and a graduate of our rigorous Servant Leadership Program. And she’s busy! In addition to taking care of two adorable children, she volunteers her time as a table captain for Celebrate Recovery and she has a position at Community Bridges, helping the homeless find housing. But that’s not all.

“I’m going back to school in January, I’m enrolled at Phoenix College to start doing my general studies in preparation for either nursing or counseling, where I can apply my behavioral health training and my peer support specialist certificate I received while I was here.”

Nicole has a bright future ahead of her. But even better, she finally has what her little heart desired all those years ago, thanks to friends like you – a real, stable, and healthy family she can call her own.

Thank you for the support that makes stories of transformation like this possible. On behalf of us all at Phoenix Rescue Mission, we wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas!

The Ripple Effect

One way or another, God's work leads to new life.

Ken was a success story in progress...

It had been a whirlwind couple of months for Ken. First, he had reconnected with his estranged brother, Randy, after more than 10 years, only to discover Randy had been homeless for a while. Then a few weeks later, Ken was evicted from his apartment and became homeless himself. When the brothers decided to pool their resources and rent an apartment together, Ken showed up on move-in day but Randy was nowhere to be found. Sitting in front of his new apartment bewildered, he was approached by a stranger.

“This guy comes up to me and asks, ‘What’s up?’ and I don’t know him from anybody so I say, ‘I don’t know.’ And at that point he says, ‘I take it that you don’t know what’s happening.’”

The man was our recovery graduate Rich Heitz, the driver of our newest Hope Coach. He explained that he had met up with Randy on the streets and that Randy was currently enrolled in Phoenix Rescue Mission’s Men’s Recovery Program. Randy had asked Rich to meet up with his brother and explain what happened.

“I was in shock. It sounded to me like my brother had abandoned me. So I took my stuff and told Rich, ‘Goodbye! I’ve gotta walk.”

Ken went to live in the river bottom in lower Buckeye, but Rich continued to keep in contact, hoping to convince him to leave the streets. Nothing Rich said seemed to have an effect, until he approached Ken one day with sad news – Randy was in hospice.

“I got to talk to him one last time. He told me that he was sorry for leaving, but that he had to do it. He passed away shortly after.”

At Phoenix Rescue Mission, we believe God’s work never returns void. This was a perfect example of the ripple effect of God’s love in action.

“That was a wake-up call for sure. I knew in that moment I needed to turn a corner, find something better. I called Rich and told him to sign me up.”

Ken enrolled in our Men’s Recovery program. He accepted Christ and was baptized on June 18th!

Ken wasn’t the first to benefit from the ripple effect and he won’t be the last. You may have heard about a young man named Joshua Staggs. He had been homeless in Goodyear for five years, until a partnership between Phoenix Rescue Mission and the Goodyear Police Department started a ripple effect of its own.

“He was a heroin addict and used meth,” says Officer Martinez. “We had many prior encounters with him. He was one of our frequent flyers.”

But that soon changed. In September of last year, Goodyear PD formed a special “Homeless Outreach Team,” comprised of Officer Martinez and Sergeant Ward, designed to offer resources to the homeless.

“We go out and look for individuals on the streets or in camps. Together with Phoenix Rescue Mission, we offer them hygiene kits, water, shoes, and clothing. The ID vouchers are the most popular, that’s a door-opener. Once we started the homeless outreach and began offering Joshua resources, he decided to go to the methadone clinic to try to kick the drugs.”

Nine months later, Joshua was back on his feet, off the streets and living in his brand-new home.

“Phoenix Rescue Mission helped him a lot with transportation, with bus passes and actually driving him to get his ID. From what he tells me, it was that feeling that somebody cares that helped him decide to make the change.”

That’s more proof that when you meet people where they are, there’s no telling what God can do or how many lives you’ll transform. Thank you for the support that’s making big waves in our city!

Help Stock the Pantry!

We're running low on food - our neighbors need your help!

It’s 110 degrees outside. Turkey dinner with all the trimmings is probably the furthest thing from your mind right now. But the holidays are right around the corner – a time when so many hungry souls find their way to the Mission and our Hope for Hunger Food Bank, first for food, then for transformation.

The bad news is: our pantry is almost empty!

This summer has stretched our resources close to the breaking point. That’s bad news for the men, women, and children we serve. We need your help today to replenish and restock our pantry in time for the Thanksgiving rush!

It’s not just the homeless who benefit. Your gift this month will mean a world of difference for hard-working families on the edge like John’s:

“No matter how much my family plans financially, things happen unexpectedly,” says John. “Places like this help us out a lot.”

We can’t possibly turn our hungry neighbors away – not during the holidays, not ever. Together we can provide nutritious food and slip an arm around every famished soul that walks through our doors this coming season.

Thank you for your support as we gear up to give the chance to chow down and choose new life to as many hungry and hurting families as we can.