The Phoenix Rescue Mission had very humble beginnings. In 1952, LeRoy Davidson, a 28-year-old Phoenix house painter, attended a service where he talked with Jimmy Carr from California about the need for a Christian mission in Phoenix. Jimmy, LeRoy, and LeRoy’s wife, Grace, felt that the Lord had laid it on their hearts to save the souls of the men struggling on the streets of Phoenix.
The first evening of operation, a simple meal was prepared to be served after the gospel was shared. The Davidsons’ eight-year-old son, Stanley, and six-year-old daughter, Beverly, helped their mother make plain sandwiches of bread and bologna to be served with Kool-Aid. About 15 migrant workers and vagrants attended, sitting on wooden planks supported by paint cans. Grace named their new venture the Phoenix Gospel Mission.
The Mission grew so quickly that it had to move twice within two years. In 1954, six local businessmen incorporated the Phoenix Gospel Mission at a location on South 3rd Street, on the current location of Chase Field.
Reverend Carl Spacone joined the Mission as a Board member in 1963 and became the Executive Director in 1969. That same year, the Mission moved to the former Utah Hotel at 440 W. Washington Street (now the site of Arizona Federal Theater). For 22 years at that location, the Mission provided showers, three meals per day, clothing, family events, Sunday school, food boxes, and six beds for addiction recovery. In 1991, urban renewal forced the relocation of the Mission to 35th Avenue.
Reverend Spacone passed away in 1993, leaving his wife Dorothy to carry on as Acting Director. Dorothy ran the Mission until 1994, when she hired Don Johnson as Executive Director. Under his leadership the Mission continued to grow and change.
The Phoenix Gospel Mission became the Phoenix Rescue Mission in 1997. In the spring of 1999, the Board of Directors appointed Jerry Sandvig as its Executive Director. Under Jerry’s watch, the Mission expanded its services with outreach to the surrounding community, serving thousands of children and families at special events throughout the year by providing food, clothing, and other items they otherwise would not receive. Jerry ended his tenure as President and CEO with the opening of the brand new Changing Lives Center, a specialized facility for homeless women and their children.
Jay A. Cory became the new President and CEO in 2011, bringing more than 20 years of experience building and directing Christ-centered recovery programs at Atlanta Mission, in Atlanta, Georgia. With a true passion for helping the addicted heal and re-enter society as healthy Christians, Jay brought about significant change and immense growth. Under his leadership, he launched the Changing Lives Center for Women and Children, the first and only faith-based recovery program in the region offering long-term, comprehensive services to women and children. He further expanded the vision by introducing education, vocational training, life-skills, and, most importantly, spiritual guidance to those stricken with poverty and homelessness.
In 2020, the Mission invited Ken Brissa to serve as the CEO, bringing with him 25 years of executive leadership experience in for-profit and non-profit enterprises.
“My personal vision for Phoenix Rescue Mission’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.”
As we embark on one of the largest expansion projects in our nearly 70-year history, Ken is providing the leadership and strategic direction necessary to further grow our mission and impact in the Valley.
God continues to call us to grow and serve more people. As we do, we will continue to see that we are cared for by the Lord and so many other faithful Mission friends!