Phoenix Rescue Mission’s Volunteer of the Year Shares Her Story of Addiction and Recovery

Janet Garcia with the Mission's Nicole Peña

I wasn’t always a do-gooder. In fact, for 18 years I was addicted to drugs and alcohol. In 2005, I experienced a traumatic event, which made me seek out a 12-step meeting, or risk relapsing.

I found a local chapter of Celebrate Recovery, a Christ-centered 12-step program. While there, I met a woman who volunteered at the Phoenix Rescue Mission, serving meals to the homeless in their soup kitchen. I also discovered that some of the men in my meetings were graduates of the Phoenix Rescue Mission addiction-recovery program. I started volunteering there, too. Working in the kitchen felt like returning home.

I grew up just a few miles from the Phoenix Rescue Mission on Buckeye Road. My parents had moved my family to Phoenix for a new beginning. Two weeks after we left California and landed in Phoenix that new beginning came to an end. My father dropped my five sisters, three brothers and mother off at 20th Avenue and Buckeye Road and left. We stayed in an apartment for a few months until we moved to the Coffelt Housing Project. While living at Coffelt, I was introduced to heroin. I was 17. I continued using the drug for the next 18 years, until 1988.

I started volunteering in 1988 after completing a 40 day in-patient treatment program. After nearly two decades of using drugs and alcohol, I can’t even express the peace volunteering has given me. The very first place I volunteered was a program that targeted women infected or at-risk for HIV. I was meeting with women who were living the same life I had lived. It was through volunteering that I got my first job working in the behavioral health field. Twenty years later, I am still working in behavioral health, though with a different community of people.

In 1993, I started volunteering at an organization that ministered to the poor. At the time, I was going through a divorce. After working with the poor, I decided that fighting for the house and material possessions was just not worth the heartache. I moved in with a friend, owning nothing but a TV and a mattress. By volunteering, I was truly home. I was accepted, and in turn, I was able to love and nurture those coming through the doors until the organization closed in 2004.

Shortly thereafter, I found the Phoenix Rescue Mission. My first shift in the kitchen was like a journey back in time — there were so many “old Janets,” people lost, addicted like I once was — I knew I was in the right place. I still see my old self in many of the faces of the men and women who come to eat a meal or get a food box. I am now delivering food boxes to homebound seniors and I love it.

I’ve gained so much from volunteering, so much more than I could ever express. My journey led me full circle — I am home again.

— Janet Garcia
2009 Volunteer of the Year Phoenix Rescue Mission

Our thanks to Janet for her years of dedicated service and for sharing her powerful story on

Thanking Volunteers for the Fruits of Their Spirit

Volunteer of the Year winner, Janet Garcia with Phoenix Rescue Mission President & CEO, Jerry Sandvig

Phoenix Rescue Mission thanked volunteers this year with a "Fruit of the Spirit" theme at our annual Volunteer Appreciation Luncheon.

We have a lot to thank them for; it is because of our volunteers serving meals in the dining hall, working with the kitchen staff, serving food daily, making sack lunches, holding canned food drives and building food boxes that Phoenix Rescue Mission was able to make an impact toward eliminating hunger in our community.

Last year more than 7,000 volunteers logged close to 16,000 hours in service at Outreach events and in service to Mission clients. Their hands packed 53,675 food boxes, served 74 meals each day in our dining hall and spread peanut butter on bread for 60,000 sack meals driven out to parks, homeless camps and under overpasses by our Hope Coach. Without their heart for the homeless and poor, our work would be extremely limited. Our volunteers not only help to fill stomachs, but also help to mend hearts and demonstrate that God’s love is exceedingly abundant. 

Phoenix Rescue Mission congratulates all our award winners:

Love Award for the Volunteer of the Year - Janet Garcia
Joy Award—Generation Church
Peace Award—Phyllis Barbee
Patience Award—Dean Glasco
Kindness Award—Safeway, Inc.
Goodness Award—Susan Welsh & Paula Weirather, Sprouts Farmer’s Markets
Faithfulness Award—Cornerstone Church, Chandler, Arizona
Gentleness Award—Howie Biemeck, Harvest Bible Chapel
Self-Control Award—Frank Woods, Christ Church Anglican

 “...the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self  control.”
Galations 5:22,23

Visit our website to learn more about volunteering at Phoenix Rescue Mission.