Miracle Maker

Betty Smith is the executive director of The Miracle Center, a faith-based nonprofit. Smith, a chaplain, oversees a long-term residence home for women coming out of prison, drug-treatment centers and domestic-violence situations. Proceeds from The Miracle Center Thrift Store, 5527 E. Pima St., help finance the residence in central Tucson, which can house up to eight women.

How did you get into this line of work?

In 1998, I worked at Grace Chapel and did my ministry there. (That same year), I also went to work for Bethany House, a women's and children's center, as a chaplain. That's when I really began to see the need for Tucson's homeless. The women coming into that shelter had just literally nothing. They would come in sometimes with (just) the clothes on their back.

What happened then?

I had been there about four or five months. After the intake process, I would meet with them. We'd begin to pray with them and encourage them. ... You know, 30 days in that shelter, going to chapel every night, they would change. Their faces began to glow. At that time, 30 days was the limit, but you can't change your life in 30 days. In three or four months, I would see the same faces. My questions were, "Why are you back? What happened?"

What did they say?

"Well, after I left here, no one prayed with me; no one encouraged me." ... They were going back to what they knew, and what they knew was their old neighborhood, old relationships that kept them down. Then the vision came: We need a place where these people could come and live for an extended period of time and get their lives back on track, get the support they need for jobs and get counseling.

How did the vision become a reality?

In 1998, after a lot of prayer and counsel with pastors at Grace Chapel, we did an incorporation and became a nonprofit in December 1998.

How does the thrift store fit in?

In 2001, people started giving us stuff. They heard about what we wanted to do. I ended up with a three-car garage (two-thirds) full of stuff up to the ceiling.... I kept looking at this stuff saying, "I need money." And finally, I could hear this voice saying, "Use the resources I've given you." I thought the only thing I could do was sell this stuff and get money. ... We opened the thrift store on July 6, 2001. ... It just came together. And you know, when that happens--it's God. He's working on your behalf.

When did you open the residence home?

Our first house was in central Tucson. We moved into the house on March 1, 2002. ... In March, April and May, we worked everyday and had to come up with criteria for coming to Miracle Center. ... Women moved in on June 1.

So this is your second home?

Yes. Jim Clark, our counselor's father, came to me in January last year. He had sold a house in California, and he needed to re-invest this money. He said, "I am going to look at houses, buy a house, and let you guys move in." So we did. We lease from Jim at a very reasonable rate. He has been such a blessing to us. It's exciting to see how God puts all the people in the right places to meet the needs that we have here.

What is the difference between your home and other facilities in the area?

We are not a shelter. We are a transitional house. We are the next step after your crisis. ... We do a screening survey. We don't take everyone who calls. I have to make sure it is someone willing to change.

What is done for the women?

(We help them) get their lives back on track. We pray with these girls every day. The foundation of their relationship with Jesus Christ is what we build on. ... Monday night is our 12-step meeting. Tuesday is our Bible study. We have churches that come in. We started a class on finances. We have counselors who come in.

Do you have a vision for this work?

I would love to see us open another house. We can work with eight women at a time, but I am praying and asking God if is it time for us to have another house where we can bring in more women. I know the provision will be there for people to help, and that's the big thing--to make sure you have the right people who have a heart for this.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

This is not a job for me. It's a love. I love when I see that they get that God has a plan for their life. And there's no greater reward than seeing someone regain their life.