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.

Through Jace’s Tears: God Gave Him the Strength to Forgive

Growing up in church, Jennifer knew the power of Easter. She knew that because of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, grace, transformation and forgiveness were offered to all who would accept them.

So when life spiraled out of control and her decisions cost her the custody of her children, she knew there was a way back. Like so many prodigals before her, Jesus promised to forgive and welcome her back home, if she returned.

What she wasn’t so sure of was if her own son, Jace, would do the same.

When the Department of Child Safety (DCS) showed up at her door, Jennifer knew firsthand the terror and confusion her children were about to go through. She had lived it. When she was two years old, she too had been removed from her parents’ custody. Other than a short-lived, abusive, reuniting with her mother when she was five, Jennifer stayed in the foster care system and never returned to her birth parents.

It was a past she did her best to put behind her. She settled down, found a place of her own, had a son, and in 2010, she was hired on here at Phoenix Rescue Mission’s Changing Lives Center.

“I knew this place was being built and I thought to myself, that would be a cool place to work. I’m a Christian, I love Jesus, so I got a job here before any women moved in. I was working in the day care center, to help set it up.”

Then everything went sideways. After so many years of being suppressed, the scars of her past suddenly welled up inside and refused to stay hidden any longer.

“One day I just broke. I couldn’t mask those years and years of trauma anymore. I became clinically depressed. Then a friend introduced me to meth. It made me a different person. I was suddenly outgoing. I had energy. I loved it. I thought I could do everything. I thought I was a super mom… which was not the case, but that’s the way it was in my head. My son was three years old at the time.”

Not even her oldest son Jace noticed anything wrong, until DCS showed up at their door.

“I remember getting taken away to a facility,” says Jace. “I waited there for hours. Then a random family walked in, took me and put me in their car. I didn’t really know what was happening.”

It was a traumatic night for Jennifer on multiple levels.

“Growing up in foster care, you always tell yourself you’ll never let your kids go through that.”

Thankfully, Jennifer not only knew she needed help, she knew exactly where to find it.

“I should have come a lot sooner, but I was embarrassed to come back as a guest after being an employee. But that was just my pride. I thought I was going to come here and they were going to give my kids back to me right away. I was very wrong. It took a lot of work.

Thanks to the support of friends like you, Jennifer was able to work through the trauma of her past, find the root, surrender it and put it behind her once and for all. Back on her feet, she found freedom from her addiction, graduated from our recovery program, and earned custody of her two kids, Jace and Jedidiah, nine months after she arrived.

“It was amazing to get them back. I’ll never forget that day. I know in my heart, from that moment on, I could never turn back. I can’t. Just looking at their faces, knowing what I put them through, I could never do that again.”

But just because Jennifer had changed, didn’t mean it was smooth sailing between her and her boys.

“When I got back, at first, I really didn’t want to talk to my mom,” Jace admits. “She wasn’t there and I thought that she left on purpose. I thought she wanted those people to take me. I thought she didn’t want me anymore, that she gave me away to someone else. It was hard to talk to her.”

But your support of our Changing Lives Center for Women and Children gave this broken family time to heal, time for God to mend the fractures and allow his Son to work in the hearts of Jennifer’s boys.

“God gave me the strength to forgive,” Jace says through tears. “I learned here that I could forgive because I was forgiven for my sins and I could forgive other people.”

That’s the power of Easter. Today, Jennifer has her own place once again and her two boys are thriving. She’s even rejoined the staff here as part of our R.A.P. (Rescue, Assess, Place) intake program team to help other families find the same kind of hope and healing.

“My favorite thing about working here is watching that transformation happen before your eyes. I’ve only been here for three months, but even in that short time, their faces change, their demeanor changes, their attitudes change."

"I gave a walking tour to a woman the other day and we came to the chapel and she says, ‘I don’t believe in God and I will not believe in God.’ She was really angry. Three weeks later she tells me, ‘I prayed in class today!’”

As we celebrate the gift that keeps on giving this Easter, thank you for the prayers and the financial support that continues to pass it on to those who need it most. On behalf of all of us, we wish you a very blessed and safe Easter celebration!

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.”

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.

Glendale WORKS: A program with an eye for transformation

It’s 4:30 a.m. Long before most of us roll out of bed, Gabe is loading the last of the sack lunches on Phoenix Rescue Mission’s Glendale Works trailer. His mission is clear – to hire 11 homeless men and women for five hours of work cleaning up the streets of Glendale.

But his goal isn’t as obvious as you would think.

When Gabe hits the road, it’s not just to provide someone with a day of honest work, or a meal, or even to beautify the streets of Glendale. He’s out there for something far more important. To inspire, to motivate and, ultimately, to transform lives.

“I used to serve on the [Phoenix Rescue Mission’s] Hope Coach, but I like this better. I get to spend extended time with people, it’s not so random. While there’s something to be said for random opportunities, the people who are showing up to work seem to have motivation to change. It’s easier to direct them toward better things.”

Gabe already has fans. Sylvia, who started signing up for the program shortly after it began last November, sees him as a role model.

“He’s cool,” says Sylvia. “He started from nothing too. If he can do it, and be this happy, so can we. It’s inspiring. He makes it look possible.”

Those who sign up receive $55 for a fivehour shift, a breakfast and a sack lunch, as well as the opportunity to connect with resources designed to end homelessness. It’s a popular program. The waitlist for Glendale Works currently sits at a week and a half, but it’s changing lives every day.

Virginia, who has completed more than 30 shifts over the past few months, now has enough saved to make the trip back home to New Jersey and start over. Donovan, who is working alongside Sylvia, Virginia and eight others this morning, will eat well tonight because of the wage he earns here.

“It really was a blessing because I needed the money,” says Donovan. “I wasn’t able to eat for a while… it was a struggle. If there wasn’t anything around like this, I don’t know what I’d do.”

As summer comes and the temperatures begin to rise, Glendale Works also represents another way to help the homeless out of the deadly heat as a part of our Code:Red initiative.

Thank you for the prayers and support that make programs like this possible! We’ve had such success that we’re looking to roll out Works programs to other cities in the Phoenix Metro area soon – stay tuned for details!

For more information about Glendale Works, visit here, or contact Gabe at gpriddy@phoenixrescuemission.org.