I first met Kit Danley in 2001 when she asked me to visit Neighborhood Ministries at its new home, hard against the railroad yards on Fillmore Street west of 19th Avenue.
It was a place that held fond memories for me. As a child, I had spent many hours train watching at the nearby Mobest Yard of the Santa Fe Railway. In those days, Fillmore ran through to 19th Avenue, and this end of the yard featured a cleaning facility for passenger cars (when Phoenix had passenger trains) and the locomotive turntable. South was the busy and (to my young eyes) imposing Valley Feed and Seed, where railcars were switched against the warehouse for loading and unloading.
Valley Feed and Seed looked very different in 2001: abandoned, decomposing, the grounds full of debris, silos that once provided seeds for this great agricultural valley now empty, eight acres of sadness. It was a graveyard that extended to Van Buren Street. Fillmore had been closed to a cul-de-sac when the yard was moved south (to lessen the train delays on McDowell). The surrounding area was known for crime now, not commerce.
But this was the site that Neighborhood Ministries had purchased in 1998 for an ambitious campus that would increase its outreach to the poor. By the time of my first visit, the organization had raised $2.2 million to begin renovating the site.
I liked Danley immediately. She was a near-native, went to Scottsdale High (I went to Coronado), and had chosen to make a stand in the wounded heart of Phoenix, founding Neighborhood Ministries in 1982. She was the polar opposite of the city of the short hustle, the state where hate was peddled for political profit.
And she would be frustrated that I appear to be making this column about her (it's not; read on). Like her spiritual forebear in Phoenix, Father Emmett McLaughlin, she felt called by Christ to minister here to the least and the lost, to the stranger and the wanderer, and find Christ in them.