Ken Brissa, CEO, Phoenix Rescue Mission: linkedin.com/in/kenbrissa/
Christ’s Church of the Valley: https://ccv.church/
CCV Missions: www.ccv.church/missions
Pastor Larrie Fraley: linkedin.com/in/larrie-fraley-53445032
Larrie: [00:01:00] Welcome to another episode of Let's Go 360. I'm excited about today's episode because we get to talk about a mission partner that has been around with CCV for many years, Phoenix Rescue Mission. And Ken Brissa is with us today. He's responsible for directing the overall operations and resources of the Phoenix Rescue Mission, which most of you know is a faith based organization that offers a number of Christ centered programs for services and services for men and women and children in the Phoenix, Arizona metro area. Now, these folks are all struggling with homelessness and addictions and food, insecurities and trauma. Ken, welcome to the show.
Ken: [00:01:42] Thank you so much for having me.
Larrie: [00:01:44] Well, tell us a little bit about Ken.
Ken: [00:01:47] Oh, well, my family and I have lived here in Arizona since 2006. We're native Chicagoans. And I joined the mission five weeks before COVID started. So the first week in February. And I had been with national non-profits for about 13, 14 years before that. And prior to that and prior to our moving to Arizona, my career was mostly corporate and usually in the area of quality assurance, which is all about continuous improvement.
Larrie: [00:02:16] Well, I'm sure you were able to carry over a lot of that experience and and skills to the Phoenix Rescue mission right?
Ken: [00:02:25] It transcends so well into non-profit work and ministry work. Yes.
Larrie: [00:02:29] Wow. What about your family?
Ken: [00:02:32] My wife and I are going to be married coming up on 40 years. Wow. Wow. Yeah, right. And we have three adult kids. We have four grandchildren. They're all here in the valley. So we're we're incredibly blessed.
Larrie: [00:02:44] So now I know a little bit about Phoenix Rescue Mission because your predecessor, Jake Cory and I were good friends. And so we we went would visit a lot and talk a lot about what was going on down there. And I was impressed then, but I am even more impressed now. I remember looking at some document that talked about the early beginnings of Phoenix Rescue Mission and at one point, even, I don't know, ten, 12 years after the organization started, you had an annual budget, if I might have this wrong, of somewhere around $140. Is that right?
Ken: [00:03:19] It was very, very small. Right? Yes.
Larrie: [00:03:21] Tell us a little bit about the beginnings of Phoenix Rescue Mission.
Ken: [00:03:24] Wow. Phoenix Rescue Mission started 70 years ago. We're celebrating 70 years serving the folks in the valley this year. And it started with two couples and they fed immigrants out on the street. And so it was basically baloney sandwiches and whatever the 70 year old equivalent of Kool-Aid was at the time. And they were feeding people who were hungry on the streets. And then it evolved into eventually a soup kitchen and then something that's called a low barrier shelter, which means that people come in for a meal, for a worship service, they spend the night and then they're back on the street the next day. So we've now transitioned into a multifaceted, multifaceted, layered ministry that serves people in all types of areas of conflict and trauma in their life.
Larrie: [00:04:14] Wow. So has the mission changed in the last 70 years?
Ken: [00:04:17] Oh, my goodness. It has changed so much. Right now we operate two residential recovery centers. We just opened our brand new men's center. Men were in there for the first time about a year ago right now. And we're celebrating the renovation of the old existing center, which you've probably seen. And we can't wait to have you out to the to the new buildings. We used to be able to serve 160 men. Now we're able to serve 360 men. And then over on 15th AV and Van Buren, we have our Women and Children's Recovery Center where women and moms with kids can bring their kids. And just like at the men's center, they get a very deep one year long recovery program, residential recovery program, with absolutely no cost to the people we serve.
Larrie: [00:05:05] Now, I know Phoenix Rescue Mission is all about transformation. So in your mind, what does that mean?
Ken: [00:05:11] You know, I the term I use most is we change earthly and eternal lives. We believe that true transformation cannot take place without walking with Christ. And that is the foundation that we build our work on. And every single thing we do at the mission is done with that in mind. So it really, truly is about eternal spiritual transformation for the people we serve.
Larrie: [00:05:35] And how many people a day does Phoenix Rescue Mission serve?
Ken: [00:05:39] Wow. You know, as I said earlier, we're multifaceted. So at our recovery centers, we're over 300 adults now, and I think we're somewhere between 30 and 40 children. That number that number varies as women enter in, other women leave and graduate. We also operate what we call a street outreach program. We have 14 vehicles that go out into the valley and minister to people living on the streets. And we serve dozens of people a day in that way. It could be something as little as simply giving them water and a hygiene kit. It also includes case management services right there on the street. So we help people get things that they just have no idea how to get and that that may include their driver's license, their birth certificate, a G.E.D., even a high school diploma. We can get them into programs to help them with that. And then all the way up to we call rescue people, meaning we take them off their lives living on the street. They may come to our program, they may get placed in another program. We may get them short term housing and then help them transition into permanent housing. So, again, dozens of people a day there. We operate a food bank out in Glendale and we are serving well over 300 people a day there.
Larrie: [00:06:57] Wow. So how does a person move from being homeless on the streets to living in housing provided by Phoenix Rescue Mission?
Ken: [00:07:06] A number of ways. Again, our street outreach team brings a number of people into our program. And when you enter our program, we have an entryway called RAP. RAP, and it stands for Rescue Assessment Place. And that's that lasts as little as seven days. It could be up to 30 days. And that's where we really work with the person to assess what their long term and short term needs are. So people come into our program through our street outreach program. We also have great partners out in the Valley who know about us, and then they place people into our program. Family members either know about us or find us on a Google search when a loved one is ready to come into a recovery program. So there are a number of ways, but it's mostly through our street outreach and our community partners.
Larrie: [00:07:51] Now, I know you came on board, right? Well, not in the middle of COVID, but right at the beginning.
Ken: [00:07:56] Right? I did. Yeah, I started the beginning of February of 2020. So I had about I think it was about 16 or 17 days before everything started shutting down due to COVID.
Larrie: [00:08:07] What was that like?
Ken: [00:08:09] It was I like we talked about earlier, I really drew on that corporate experience that I had, that continuous improvement experience. One thing about being in quality assurance is you're all about, as I said, improving processes, and that takes a lot of trial and error. So we were very, very nimble early on and all throughout COVID, and then we would do something that I call place scenario and we would ask questions, what if? And we would just come up with things and we would brainstorm. And it really worked our mental muscles, for lack of a better term, because sure enough, while we might have tried, we would guess things like extreme things. And while that thing may not have happened, sure enough, some things would have happened. And so we were ready. Our team is tremendous. They're talented, they're soldiers for Christ. And so when you combine great people with an ability to think and pivot quickly, we were very successful through it all.
Larrie: [00:09:05] Well, one area I know you're very successful, and that is in the preparation of the food. When I would go down and visit, I'd always make sure that we had lunch there. And let me tell you, can you guys serve a top notch lunch. And the thing I remember are the cookies. Tell me you still make those cookies.
Ken: [00:09:24] Sadly, we don't. And the reason is, is because during COVID, we used to operate Mission Possible Cafe on the corner of 15th Avenue and Van Buren. And the great majority of our client base were people who worked at the Capitol. And so we operated every morning and afternoon for breakfast and lunch Monday through Friday. And then when COVID hit, our customer base was gone and most restaurants were shutting down as well. And then as it was, as restaurants were able to open up again, we realized that our customer base was now working remotely or working in a hybrid fashion forever. And when we looked at the numbers and asked ourselves, is it really the right thing to do to open this restaurant when we have so many people we need to help and serve and minister to throughout the valley? The decision was made that we wouldn't reopen the cafe.
Larrie: [00:10:17] Well, there's an example of your leadership, because I know those kinds of decisions are hard to make. And so. You know, thank God that someone like you is at the helm that's able to take on some of these harder decisions and and move forward. What does a day look like for a homeless person?
Ken: [00:10:37] Yeah, they're met with a lot of compassion and a lot of love. And very early on, especially that first day, as you as you say, they're very apprehensive. Even if they made the decision that they wanted to get into a recovery program, they're very apprehensive. Many people are untrusting and they see the hands and feet of Jesus at work, not just in the people who we employ, but in the people who have been in program for a while. Early on, they can't believe what they're seeing. They think there's no way that this could be real. There's no way that these people could be living the life they're living today. When they were living like me a short time ago, but in a very short amount of time, they realize that it is real and they realize that the gospel is the way to move forward and transition their lives, get out of the life they were living. So again, it's very it's very odd the first day or a short amount of time. But for the people who stay with us, they learn very quickly that. We you know, we live the life we claim.
Larrie: [00:11:38] And what kind of life are they coming from now? A lot of us, we have these kind of ideas of what a homeless person's life is like, and perhaps maybe they've been homeless for all their life. But that's not true, right?
Ken: [00:11:53] In most cases, it's not true that they've been homeless their whole life. Most people find themselves in what we call chronic homelessness due to some kind of trauma in their life. Other people find themselves situationally homeless, and that number is rising exponentially, especially in the last year. So it comes from people find themselves in an area of homelessness for a wide, wide variety of reasons.
Larrie: [00:12:19] And some of the homeless folks that find themselves in that situation come out of the corporate world. Right. I mean, these are these are people that you wouldn't think would be homeless, but yet whatever circumstances have led them to this situation, here they are.
Ken: [00:12:33] Yeah, that's exactly right. We we encounter people who come from all walks of life, all income levels, all geographic areas throughout the valley and even around the country because people find their way to Arizona. So you're right. It's not just a very low income people living on living in poverty find themselves homeless.
Larrie: [00:12:51] Well, my wife and I serve on Sunday mornings down at CASS in the tent city, the folks that live outside of the complex down there. And we go down for breakfast to serve them breakfast each every Sunday morning at 6:30. And one thing we are just amazed at as the people come through the line. You obviously strike up a conversation with them and I would say, I'm just ball parking, two out of every ten people are people that perhaps were a school teacher or in some profession that, you know, would be in a middle to upper class incomes. And here they are coming through the line to get a free breakfast.
Ken: [00:13:38] Yes, unfortunately, that's exactly true. And, you know, we were going over the reasons why people find themselves homeless. Another very common reason is people find themselves addicted in absolutely no time after the first time they do some kind of drug. Oftentimes, people injure themselves. They're in an accident and they take that very first painkiller and they find themselves instantly addicted. Other drugs do the same thing as well. So, yeah, you're absolutely right. You're talking about school teachers, corporate folks, firemen. I mean, every walk of life, different circumstances and trauma. Make those folks susceptible to the eventual life of living on the street.
Larrie: [00:14:23] On the street. And I've noticed there's a there's a significant number of veterans that are actually on the streets.
Ken: [00:14:29] Sadly, there are. Yes, that's that's true.
Larrie: [00:14:32] So what's your big vision? Why did Ken come to Phoenix Rescue Mission? And after you've been there for a couple of years now, what do you see as the next big deal that you want to try to accomplish?
Ken: [00:14:45] You know, I will I will have a much more definitive answer to that question at the end of the year. And I can explain what I mean. When the concept to build the new men's center was first it was first thought up 2017, it included building some other buildings in the area and through COVID early and early in 2021, we asked ourselves, I wonder if we should be moving forward on those things? So we decided to conduct what we call a resource gap analysis. And what that means is we're going out and we're surveying valley wide. We're surveying people living on the streets, we're surveying community partners, we're surveying elected officials, we're serving service providers. And we're asking, what is it that you need related to homelessness, addiction, trauma and food insecurity? And we're gathering that information right now. And so we're going to know geographically what the biggest needs are, and then we will assess what is it that we want to take on next and the thing I like to say most is, and who are we going to partner with to make that happen? So really at the highest altitude, it's much like the intro to today's podcast. We want to be everywhere God wants us. And we believe that he is not only providing for us to do that, but giving us the information to truly zero in on those places and those things that he wants us focused on.
Larrie: [00:16:13] I wonder if you could tell us a story about maybe a homeless person who came into Phoenix Rescue mission and was transformed.
Ken: [00:16:21] Hmm. Countless. Right now, we employ about 125 people, and I'd say about 30% of them have come through our program. So not only are they now just wonderful, highly functional people, their employees at Phoenix Rescue Mission, and we're growing so quickly that many of these people are being promoted into supervisory roles. One thing I can tell you from a story standpoint is to two Mondays a month, we have what we call new orientation lunch, where I have lunch with the new folks on their first day. And as we're going around the table one day, there's a young woman and she's one of our new child care teachers. And. Everyone was going around introducing themselves and she introduced herself. And I asked, What brought you to the mission? And she pointed to our women's center, which is right next door to the building we were in. And she said, I used to live there. And someone sitting next to me, another staff member said, Oh, that's such a great way to say it. Most most of the time people say, I went to your program there. And she said, no, my mom did. So she was a young girl, a child living on our campus while her mom was in the recovery program. And now fast forward years later, she's now on staff at Phoenix Rescue Mission working in the child care area that she used to be part of as a child.
Larrie: [00:17:48] Wow. That's amazing. How many children are actually involved with Phoenix Rescue Mission right now?
Ken: [00:17:56] I think we're somewhere between 30 and 40. And the only reason I don't have an exact number is because women come into the program with children all the time and then women leave program, you know, graduate out in transition out of the program. But we're right there in the 30 to 40 range.
Larrie: [00:18:11] Wow. So tell me a little bit about maybe your biggest needs that you have right now?
Ken: [00:18:17] Yeah, our biggest needs are certainly in the area of food. St Mary's is one of our biggest partners when it comes to providing us food, but with current supply chain issues andnd then multiply that by the number of people who are in need of food. We're always in need of good, nourishing food for folks. That's one thing. And then the other thing, like every ministry, we need the financial resources to be able to do the things that God wants us to be doing. When I started at the mission, we had a very small number of street outreach vehicles. Now we're up to 14 and we want many, many more. We want more people out on the streets ministering to the people living on the streets. So it's really the financial resources. And then of course, because of the situation we the valley and really the country are in right now, we need additional food.
Larrie: [00:19:10] Hey, tell us a little bit about the spiritual component of Phoenix Rescue mission. Is there church services? Is there Bible studies? How's that work?
Ken: [00:19:20] All of the above. There are devotionals for both clients. You know, the people we serve and staff, different departments have different devotionals on a regular basis. We do have chapel service at both the Men's Center and the Women's Center. And we just made the decision a couple of weeks ago that we're going to have a monthly chapel service for service for all staff so that staff can get together outside of a typical traditional meeting and simply worship together. Arguably, every meeting starts with prayer. Every decision we make, we pause and make sure and take time to make sure that that's the direction God wants us to go. So arguably everything we do, and that's no exaggeration at Phoenix Rescue Mission is really built on a spiritual foundation.
Larrie: [00:20:08] That's great. And of course, that's one of the main reasons that CCV partners with you. We love organizations that has this holistic approach to healing not only from the physical side, but also the spiritual side.
Ken: [00:20:23] I can't put into words how much your partnership means to us. We this is absolutely true. We could not do what we do if it weren't for partners like CCV. I think about the countless things and the countless times your people have stepped up and stepped in to truly be a part of Phoenix Rescue Mission. CCV Truly, truly is in our DNA. You're one of our biggest, best partners in the Valley. And we truly love and appreciate.
Larrie: [00:20:50] Well, we're certainly honored to serve. And we look forward to a long term relationship with Phoenix Rescue Mission. And I'm looking forward to getting to know you better Ken
Ken: [00:20:59] Me As well?
Larrie: [00:21:00] Yeah. How can we pray for you?
Ken: [00:21:04] Oh, thank you. One way to pray is thank you for offering that. It's those resources that that I shared that we need those resources so that we can do what we need to do and reach out to those people that God has put us in place to reach out to. There are far more lives needing our help than we're able to provide today. And so really, the prayer is that God directs us. Shows us the way to where He wants us to be serving and gives us the resources to be able to do it.
Larrie: [00:21:37] Well, we'll certainly keep you in our prayers. And again, thank you for joining us today.
Ken: [00:21:42] Thank you so much.
Larrie: [00:21:43] And we're going to be sure and include the Phoenix Rescue mission dot org link in our show notes along with some other helpful information. So be sure and check out our show notes after each episode of Let's Go 360.