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Ex-addict finds ‘home’ volunteering at Phoenix Rescue Mission

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

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