Helping the Rescue Mission is an easy sell for GCU

The second Town Hall Informational on Thursday put the spotlight on GCU's partnership with Phoenix Rescue Mission.

By Lana Sweeten-Shults
GCU News Bureau

Shelly Schrimpf spoke about how a sale at the Lope Shop turned into so much more -- a chance to help Phoenix Rescue Mission.

The Lope Shop’s Shelly Schrimpf focuses much of her time on the campus retail store's bottom line as she keeps up with shopping trends and moving product.

But something else moved her at Thursday’s Town Hall Informational. She got emotional as she started to talk about what was coming – a chance for the Lope Shop team to think beyond the bottom line and help those in need.

“As a person of faith, sometimes you just know when you’re being led to go somewhere else than what your original plan is,” Grand Canyon University’s Assistant Director of Campus Retail and Licensing said at the virtual town hall as she spoke about helping lift up Phoenix Rescue Mission.

Schrimpf’s team was tasked with coming up with ways for the Lope Shop to not end up at such a financial loss during COVID-19, when so many businesses are struggling. One of the things her team looked at was a sale for National Opposite Day, where shoppers could bring in a sweatshirt from a different college and get a discount on GCU merchandise.

That simple idea grew into something much bigger.

With the Give Back, Get Back initiative, new and gently used sweatshirts, shirts, socks, shoes (especially athletic shoes), towels and linens brought into the main store and the Hotel Shop from Monday through Friday, Jan. 29, will be donated to Phoenix Rescue Mission’s clients, who are struggling with homelessness, drug addiction and trauma. Donors, in exchange, will receive 30% off of a GCU apparel item.

After wrapping their arms around the nonprofit, Schrimpf said she thought, “Let’s not even worry about the sale, and let’s just bless those that we can bless. … Let’s just be the light of Jesus in this opportunity. It just became more than me making a dollar in the Lope Shop."

It was the perfect time, thought Community Relations Director Debbie Accomazzo, to introduce the campus community to Phoenix Rescue Mission and its partnership with the University. So she organized Thursday’s Town Hall Informational, the second virtual gathering to feature one of the campus’ community partners following the Zoom meeting in December that spotlighted GCU's partnership with St. Mary’s Food Bank.

GCU alumnus Nathan Smith is Phoenix Rescue Mission's Chief Program Officer.

Nathan Smith, a GCU alumnus and the Rescue Mission’s Chief Program Officer, spoke about the scale of the organization’s programs. That includes its Hope for Hunger Food Bank, a food distribution program that offers services at its brick-and-mortar location and also via its mobile pantry, and its homeless outreach program, in which the organization connects with people living on the streets, learns their stories and works with them to get them off the streets.

He also spoke about Glendale Works, a day labor service for people experiencing homelessness that pays a minimum wage for cleanup and landscaping in Glendale facilities and parks. The Rescue Mission wraps case-management services around those individuals.

There’s the Transformations Recovery Program, too, which serves about 300 adults at its men’s and women’s campuses. The 12-month program identifies barriers that keep people experiencing addiction, homelessness and other problems.

“We really dig out those traumas and work to rebuild them into a new person,” said Smith, who added that the nonprofit is in the middle of a $25 million capital campaign and facilities expansion of its men’s campus.

He also shared with Town Hall Informational attendees how the nonprofit has navigated through one of its most difficult times. When the global pandemic hit, its Hope for Hunger Food Bank, for example, was serving about 3,000 households. The number now is up to 4,000 to 5,000, he estimated.

It wasn’t an option to just stop serving those in need during the pandemic.

“We had to keep going. … The amount of need in our community skyrocketed as a result of the pandemic,” he said.

Instead of scale back, the nonprofit implemented social distancing and sanitization measures. At the food bank, food distribution shifted outside.

“When it came to the residential campuses, in the middle of the pandemic, we had to close down intake for a brief period of time,” he said, noting that the Rescue Mission implemented quarantine procedures once the facilities re-opened. They also partnered with the Parsons Family Health Center to get people tested and treated for COVID.

More than 70 of the University's prelicensure nursing students annually do one of their clinical rounds at the Rescue Mission.

One of the ways GCU helps Phoenix Rescue Mission is by sending its prelicensure nursing students to the organization for clinical rotations. The College of Nursing and Health Care Professions sends 72 students a year to Phoenix Rescue Mission, “and it’s life-changing for them,” said Heather Ziemianski, Assistant Dean in the college. Those students’ last semester of clinicals is called Population Health, where they go into community settings, such as at Phoenix Rescue Mission.

“They provide hands-on support for agencies and clients that don’t otherwise have medical care,” said Ziemianski. “Our students go out and do assessments. They’re onsite mostly at the men’s facility. But they’re engaged with them, they’re building rapport, they’re learning more about these clients.”

The opportunity to serve at the Rescue Mission, Ziemianski said, is humbling for those students.

“It gives them an opportunity to really speak to this demographic, learn more about those people, and then it helps them in the long run with a transition to health care, in whatever setting they’re going to be in, because they’re going to see this population wherever they go.”

More importantly, she added, “I think it just helps them become better nurses. … It gets them closer to their faith.”

GCU also partners with Phoenix Rescue Mission at its Mission Possible Cafe.

GCU also partnered with Phoenix Rescue Mission in its nonprofit restaurant, Mission Possible Café, by providing the marketing, management, culinary and hospitality expertise that quick-started the project in 2017.

“My culinary team trained a few of the participants at the Transformation Center. … They were the culinary team that opened up the restaurant and trained them and continued that training for quite a while,” said Brett Cortright, General Manager of GCU Hotel and Canyon 49 Grill.

The University also has hired full-time employees who have gone through Phoenix Rescue Mission programs.

“We really, really appreciate the partnership,” he said.

Jesse Dalla Riva, who went through the Phoenix Rescue Mission's Transformations Recovery Program, received a scholarship to go to GCU.

Another connection between GCU and Phoenix Rescue Mission is the scholarship offered to individuals of the Transformations Recovery Program, such as Jesse Dalla Riva, who lived a life of homelessness and drug addiction but has since turned his life around. He received a full-ride scholarship to GCU, earning his bachelor’s degree in 2019 in Counseling with an Emphasis in Substance Abuse, and works at Phoenix Rescue Mission as a supervisor. He also is pursuing his master’s degree at GCU.

Smith shared that the nonprofit is in the process of confirming four more scholarships to graduates of the Transformations Recovery Program.

“We’re giving you guys the crème de la crème of the people who have graduated from our program, so it’s an amazing partnership,” Smith said.

Catie Hammann, the Gift-In-Kind and Acquisition Supervisor for the Rescue Mission, shared how the donations to the organization help immensely and told of a family that was moving to another state to better its situation. That family was going to leave Phoenix with nothing.

Phoenix Rescue Mission's Catie Hammann talked about how important donations are right now to the nonprofit.

“We had some of our case managers come over to the warehouse and pick out the exact sizes of clothes and shoes and some hygiene that they needed, and we were able to send them with a suitcase full of stuff for their family while they went on this trip," Hammann said.

“It helps spread the love of Jesus and helps people remember that not all hope is lost right now.” 

The donations received from Give Back Get Back will go to the Rescue Mission’s Community Closet and to programs on the men’s and women’s campuses.

Hammann is particularly excited about possible donations of towels, which “sounds so funny,” she said. But, she added, “We have a new Empowerment Center opening. … People are going to be able to come and take showers and get vocational development through our vocational development program that we have. The towels are just a huge need. We need them on campus, but we also need them for our new program.”

And Schrimpf is more than happy to help with that need as she spoke of continuing Give Back Get Back annually.

“I just feel very passionate about where this has gone and what this is going to turn into,” she said. “… It’s going to get really big. I just know it.”

GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-7901.


Related content:

GCU Today: They talked turkey and how to help the food bank

GCU Today: GCU connects with Phoenix Rescue Mission


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