Special to AFN

Michelle Rader’s world began to unravel soon after she and her boyfriend were evicted from their home due to their addiction to drugs. With nowhere to go, they found themselves living out of a truck on the streets of Phoenix.

The news of the eviction soon reached her 7-year-old son’s teachers, and she lost custody of her only child. Though she was devastated, her addiction was so powerful that she continued to use. Until one day she had an epiphany.

“If I didn’t do something different, I knew I was going to lose my son permanently,” said Rader. “I was either going to die or end up in jail.”

That’s when she lost her taste for the life she was living.

The Department of Child Services referred her to Phoenix Rescue Mission’s Changing Lives Center for Women and Children, the only faith-based recovery program in the region offering long-term, comprehensive services to women and children.

It was exactly what she needed.

A week and a half later, the police informed her that her boyfriend had been found beaten to death on the streets she formerly called home.

“We went everywhere together,” said Rader. “That could have been me.”

After 12 months at the Changing Lives Center, Rader not only graduated from the center’s recovery program, but she also earned back full custody of her son.

“Thanks to this place, I’m not only sober, I not only have custody of my son, I have a way to move forward and support my family,” she said.

Her path is even more clear today because – through a unique vocational development program available at the center – she has been given the opportunity to lay down a foundation for a career in culinary management.

Designed to help curb the cycle of homelessness, the 13-week Food Services Program gives women at the center a chance to become certified ServeSafe food managers and learn in-depth knowledge about the inner workings of the restaurant business.

It also teaches them skills that will serve them long after they leave the program.

Since joining the Food Services Program, Rader has worked her way up from line cook to a paid position as manger of the Changing Lives Center’s social enterprise program, Mission Possible Catering.

The health-minded catering service is staffed completely by the women in recovery at the center who have completed the vocational development program and have earned their ServeSafe certifications.  

“The beautiful thing about this program is you not only gain the skills restaurant employers are looking for, you have the opportunity to put those skills to the test and build your resume at the same time,” said Rader.

Monday through Friday, Rader and her staff are hard at work serving real customers, handling all the challenges of a real business and earning valuable on-the-job experience, including menu creation and preparation, marketing techniques, business management practices, customer service skills and much more.

While Mission Possible Catering brings in a small amount of income to help support its programming, the Food Services Program costs about $2 million annually to support and relies heavily on donations from private organizations like 100+ Women Who Care Valley of the Sun, a philanthropic group of local women who recently donated $10,500 to the charity.

The mission got vital help from 100+ Women Who Care because members Mary Jordan and Ahwatukee resident Carina Burtell nominated it.

Numerous Ahwatukee women belong to the group.
The next meeting of 100+ Women Who Care Valley of the Sun is Aug. 22 at the Foothills Golf Club. Guests are welcome.

Information: 100wwcvalleyofthesun.org or PhoenixRescueMission.org.

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