Meet the Staff: Nathan Smith, Our CPO

Ever wonder what fuels the fire in the hearts of our staff for the homeless and hurting? Starting this month, we’ll be introducing you to the outstanding men and women who work tirelessly to see lives transformed – to get a peek into what brought them to the Mission and what keeps them going.

Ask anyone on campus and they’ll tell you: Nathan Smith has a huge heart for the homeless. But it didn’t start out that way.

“I wasn’t necessarily callous to helping people with great needs,” Nathan remembers. “I just never paid any attention to that as a kid.” It wasn’t until his first missions trip to India that his life, and his heart, changed forever. Nathan not only found his calling while he was in India, he found his wife – who was serving in the medical clinics of the same missions’ field.

“Years later, I was having trouble getting out to India to continue my mission work because I was building a family here. That’s when I was challenged by my grandmother-in-law to do more work locally. I started working with the homeless, which blossomed into a church ministry. From there, I met Jay Cory (former President and CEO of Phoenix Rescue Mission) who got me started at an entry-level position at the Mission.”

At the Mission, Nathan flourished. In just six short years, he’s risen through the ranks from Project Coordinator to Project Manager to Director of Community Engagement. During that time, he was instrumental in the expansion of the Mission’s reach into regions like Glendale, where he and his team saved the city’s largest food bank from closing for good.

Nathan’s team reopened Hope For Hunger Food Bank and increased the output of the previous ownership by more than 50% – serving more than 160 families per day under his watch. He was also a key player in the formation of Glendale Works, an integrated workforce development program aimed at reducing homelessness in Glendale by providing homeless individuals day-work cleaning city property.

In May, he accepted the position of Chief Program Officer!

God has put me in these different spots to expose me to what it means to be a leader, what it means to work with people who are really, really down and out and it’s prepared me to take that on at a higher administrative level. I couldn’t be more thankful for the path He put me on to get here.

Congratulations on your promotion, Nathan. We can’t wait to see how God uses you next!

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.

Things May Look Different, but the Work Goes On

News of the coronavirus forced us to cancel the groundbreaking ceremony of our new, 4-story Life Recovery Building which will house our men’s program and increase available beds from 170 to 360, allowing us to have greater impact on many more lives. But the work goes on! Construction is underway, and all throughout Phoenix Rescue Mission, we’re still bringing help and hope to the homeless and needy.

At the Mission, we’re staying abreast of the COVID-19 situation and making decisions in real-time regarding how to best care for and serve those in our ministry family. Our leadership team has developed plans for each area within the organization, so that we can responsibly continue our ministry with care and compassion, especially at this crucial time of need in our city.

We’ve adjusted our outreach in creative ways. Our Hope for Hunger Food Bank has been transformed into a drive-thru style so we can continue our normal hours (M-F, 8am-12pm). There are no zip code restrictions on who can receive food at Hope for Hunger, so anyone can receive food assistance so long as they show an ID and proof of residence (typically a utility bill). Healthy volunteers are still needed each weekday. If you can help, sign up at prm.volunteerhub.com.

We will also continue our Community Markets and Mobile Food Pantries around the Valley, all with redesigned procedures to minimize or eliminate personal contact.

In times like this, we’re given an opportunity to display God’s love, help build courageous people, and engage in the welfare and comfort of our communities.

With your faithful support, we will continue to reach out to the hurting and homeless with hope and help. In times of darkness, the light shines brightest – thank you for the partnership that gives a path forward to the men, women, and children we serve, even in the midst of the current crisis.

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.