WILLIAMS, Ariz. - For Michael Rioux, giving back to his community is personal, because he knows what it's like to be the one in need.
Rioux is the founder of Hope For the World, a local organization that serves the physical and spiritual requirements of veterans and anyone else in need.
He believes running the organization is what he was meant to do. Rioux's journey to helping others started when he served in Afghanistan in 2010 in the Mountain Infantry Unit.
"I shouldn't have came back," he said. "We were surrounded and had to fight our way out and we didn't all make it back, and I believe God brought me back for a particular purpose."
When he returned from Afghanistan, Rioux said he and his wife were homeless for about a year and a half, "not so much sleeping under a bridge but bouncing between couches and family and not really having a home."
It took two years for Rioux's Veterans Affairs benefits to take effect. At that time he was able to buy a house in Williams.
"It was a very difficult fight with the VA and struggling trying to get the medical help that I needed as well as the financial help," Rioux said. "The fight shouldn't have to be so hard when you get back. You've already done the battlefield thing, and when you get back you're fighting another battle."
So Rioux decided to become a veteran's advocate to prevent others from having to navigate the process on their own. He is the service officer for the Veterans of Foreign Wars Matthew James Broehm Post 12128 in Williams and a member of the American Legion John Ivens Post 42 in the Grand Canyon.
"My wife and I, because we fought with the VA, that's why I want to help other veterans to let them know, you know, you don't have to do this alone," he said. "There are people out there who do understand."
In March, Rioux went one step further and opened Hope For the World in the Canyon Vista Mall. Besides helping veterans fill out any paperwork they need to receive their benefits, Rioux also helps veterans, the homeless, and anyone else in need with material items. The back room of his office is stockpiled with clothing, shoes, blankets, pillows, sleeping bags, toiletries and non-perishable food items. If Rioux is unable to help someone with their needs, he can direct them to a local church or organization that can.
But that's only half of Rioux's mission at Hope For the World. The other portion of the organization is a non-denominational ministry. Rioux has Bibles and other religious texts in about 30 different languages to accommodate tourists.
"I wanted to tell people about what God did for me and point people to Christ," he said. "Just the fact of handing say a Chinese Bible to someone from China, I can reach the world and many different locations here since Williams is the Gateway to the Grand Canyon."
Rioux also has bookshelves of religious reference materials and movies. The front of his office has a window display that highlights different scripture verses that are relevant to whatever is going on in the world at the time.
"So 24/7 the gospel message is going out trying to give people hope and hope for the world," he said.
All of the services that Rioux provides to community members and people passing through town are free.
"Everything you see here has been given to us so we just give it right back out," he said. "This isn't just for veterans, it's for anyone who's homeless or struggling. I want to give people hope. I struggle with PTSD and traumatic brain injury myself from some of my injuries over there. My needs are being taken care of now and it's my way of giving back to the community."
Hope For the World is at 117 W. Route 66, Suite 125. The office is open Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. More information about the organization or donating is available from Rioux at (623) 297-4669.
Rioux recently started his own Hope For the World radio show on KZBX 92.1 F.M., Williams' community radio station. His show airs from 6 to 7 p.m. on Fridays.
"I'm just going to have some Christian music, I'm going to have local people coming in to talk about what God has done in their life, I may talk about veterans things and I may take phone calls eventually and interact with the community," he said.
Rioux added that he'd like to take anonymous prayer requests on the radio show. He hopes the show will be a way for him to encourage more people.
"I think maybe people can hear over the radio that there is hope," he said. "People need to know that they're not alone, there are people who care."
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