Kassandra Elson couldn’t believe she was watching a Grand Canyon University women’s basketball game on Tuesday night. She described her participation in the partnership between the Lopes and the Phoenix Rescue Mission (PRM) as “crazy’’ because less than a year ago she was incarcerated. In her case, the Christian-based PRM is aptly named.
[caption id="attachment_67476" align="alignright" width="470"] From left, PRM residents Kassandra Elson, Katie Diercks, Courtney Kinnear and Holley Kirk surround PRM Donor Events and Engagement Coordinator Nikki Smith (center).
Cheering for the Lopes had never been on Elson’s radar.
“It is crazy to think I am coming to something like this, a GCU basketball game,’’ she said. “This is how I am spending my free time rather than doing things that put me in prison.’’
As fans placed toys into the boxes in the lobby of GCU Arena, Elson reflected on her childhood as the oldest of six children in a low-income family.
Along with collecting toys, games and household items for PRM’s Winter Wonderland, GCU and PRM were united by Jesse Dalla Riva, who gave a compelling pregame prayer.
Dalla Riva overcame drug addiction and homelessness through PRM. He has worked at PRM full-time the past four years while majoring in counseling with an emphasis in substance abuse addiction at GCU.
“I was motivated to give back to the community that I was once part of in that I am addict myself,’’ said Dalla Riva, who plans to graduate in April.
With his wife, Blake, and their 19-month-old son, Jaxson, looking on, Dalla Riva prayed for the students and the athletes, adding, “God, I pray for all of those who are suffering and in need tonight.’’
The connection between GCU and the Christian-based PRM was further strengthened by a halftime video that shared PRM’s mission. In addition, Nikki Smith, Donor Events and Engagement Coordinator for PRM, urged the GCU community to make donations.
“Unfortunately, a lot of our children have come from traumatic situations,’’ she said. “Some of them are hopeful for Christmas, but others are not. They do not have high expectations for what might be under the tree, so something like this gives them hope. It lets them know that other people care that they matter. It is a joy to change a child’s life and perspective, so it is a big gift.’’
GCU women’s basketball fans Mike Carley and Sue Hunter happily donated toys and dish cloths.
“Anywhere we are we try to make sure we help out,’’ Hunter said. “It is just part of what we do.’’
Smith summarized, “Events like this go a long way to giving people hope and helping them to transform their lives.’’