GCU, students help new cafe transform lives
By Laurie Merrill
GCU News Bureau
It wasn’t very long ago that it seemed impossible for an abandoned restaurant near the Phoenix Rescue Mission to ever be more than a ramshackle shell.
But in just a few months’ time, the impossible happened: The renovated Mission Possible Café is now open for business, serving Mexican meals and crowd-pleasing cookies under the supervision of three students from Grand Canyon University.
In their roles, Hospitality Management students Sarah Mondragon, Dominique Broom and Katie Casteel also provide vocational training to women who find sobriety but lack skills for the workplace.
“It is so beautiful to see the love of God in them,” Casteel during the eatery’s recent formal opening. “The power that God has over this is just incredible.”
What happened? It took the vision, dedication and perseverance of leaders who believe in the power of the Phoenix Rescue Mission to transform individuals through the love of Christ.
It took leaders, such as Paul Senseman, Chairman of the board of directors of the mission; Jay Cory, President and CEO of the organization; State Representative Tony Navarette; and a host of other hard-working, caring individuals who find joy in bringing joy to others.
It took the heart of people, such as Seanna Perry, “a ray of sunshine” whose sobriety was restored and her life transformed by God and the Phoenix Rescue Mission’s Transformations program.
She now delights in bringing back the twinkle to the eyes of other broken women, those as defeated and loveless as she once was.
“I want to make a difference in the community,” Perry said. “I want to be an inspiration. I want to be a good leader for women.”
It also took the vision and resources of GCU President Brian Mueller, Cory said. GCU provided marketing and hospitality expertise that quick-started the project and created a powerful partnership.
Cory said he met with Mueller last summer.
“He didn’t even wait for me to leave the office,” Cory said, before introducing him to Hospitality and Marketing employees, including Brett Cortright, Manager of the Canyon 49 Grill and GCU Hotel.
“GCU has been tremendous through this process,” Cory said.
Others echoed their gratitude for GCU, including Nicole Peña, the mission’s Director of Marketing and Public Relations.
“One of the most amazing partnerships that’s bringing so much to the mission is GCU,” she said.
The Mission Possible Café, at 1516 W. Van Buren St., does more than serve tasty dishes. It also provides hope to the homeless who, after going through the Phoenix Rescue Mission’s recovery program, can learn skills through vocational and service management training.
“We are not just a soup kitchen. We are not a drive-through or a microwave,” Cory said. “God called me to Phoenix six years ago to be part of a comprehensive, Christ-centered solution provider. … God is doing amazing work and lives are being transformed.”
Navarette’s is another story of hope and inspiration. He has gone from child born to a single mother on the streets of Phoenix to a state legislator working to improve those same city neighborhoods.
“The more we work for real change, the more our lives can change a whole community,” Navarette said. “I do this work because I believe.”
Each of the three GCU interns who work as front-of-the-house supervisors at the café also have worked in one or more GCU Hospitality “laboratories,” including Canyon 49 Grill, the GCU Golf Course, GCBC and the GCU Hotel.
“I love the Hospitality program because the amount of experience I’ve gotten through GCU has benefited me so much,” said Casteel, a senior. “I’ve have such a running start on my career because of this program.”
Cortright contacted the students over the summer, and they jumped at the chance to be on the ground floor of a new venture — even after seeing how much had to be done.
“It has been a whirlwind,” Mondragon said. “This is another feather in the cap of the Hospitality program.”
Senseman recalls rubbing elbows with fellow patrons years ago when the building was occupied by another restaurant. Now, he said, “we break bread with people.”
“It was the place to see and be seen,” Senseman said. “I’m blown away that God is transforming this place again.”
Contact Laurie Merrill at (602) 639-6511 or [email protected].