Golden Rule Moments: Arene Rushdan of Arizona Faith Network, published

Golden Rule Moments: Arene Rushdan of Arizona Faith Network

Albert Celoza, Ph.D.

Special to The Republic

People move to Phoenix for its conducive warm climate. Recently, however, it set the record for excessively dangerous temperatures. During the summer of 2023, Phoenix was the hottest city in the US. The high temperature caused 645 heat-associated deaths—more than 50% higher than in 2022. Extreme heat makes people vulnerable to illnesses and increases the danger of death, especially the unhoused or homeless.

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, quarantine restricted access to public places except for churches or houses of worship. Responding to the community’s needs, the Arizona Faith Network (AFN) created, inspired, and coordinated faith-based cooling stations strategically located in various neighborhoods accessible to the most vulnerable.

Who better to coordinate this work than Arene Rushdan? Arene is the youngest of 16 siblings — yes, she was the youngest of sixteen from one mother and one father. She was prepared to assume this role because of her experience, education, and passion for serving others.

‘I do to others the way I want to be treated. This means that I will serve everyone with kindness and understanding’. Arene learned the Golden Rule from her parents’ example. Coming from Mississippi, her family moved to East Saint Louis in Illinois, across the river from Saint Louis, Missouri. For people seeking better lives and passing through in their place, her mother shared with them ‘cornbread, buttermilk and sugar’. Her father did all sorts of jobs in and out of the house to raise a family. Her family’s self-sufficiency enabled them to grant compassionate action to others. Arene’s 15 older siblings served as her examples. They all went to school and served in the military. She was imbued with ‘old-fashioned’ values: obedience, respect, and trust for her parents. She said, ‘I also did not want to embarrass my family – the Sanders’.

Earlier, Arene wanted to be a dentist, but since it was necessary for her to support her education, she shifted to nursing. She made such progress in this chosen career that she pursued a master’s degree in nursing education and taught others the practice and skills of caring for others. She made learning fun and friendly. (Fun fact: Arene founded the MAFIA: Mothers Against Fentanyl in America.) She also made sure that her students applied critical thinking skills and were able to work with others in groups.

Before joining the AFN, Arene worked as an assistant nursing director and was employed at Riverside County’s inpatient mental health facility as a case manager. In this role, she reviewed and made decisions about the appropriateness and level of patient care required for cost-effective care.

Arene’s experiences in the nursing field and her passion for helping others have surely helped her coordinate care for heat relief in the excruciating heat of Phoenix summer. Arene first served as the cooling center organizer in 2021. Through the years, her work has progressed into coordinating three levels of service: hydration stations, cooling centers, and respite centers. At a hydration station, individuals can go there to receive bottled water and other donated items.

Cooling centers are ‘indoor, air-conditioned locations that offer hydration. For example, libraries, faith communities during office hours, or places of business’. Heat relief respite centers are ‘indoor, air-conditioned locations that offer hydration and allow for uninterrupted rest, sitting or lying down during hours of operation’. If you or an organization you know are interested in opening a faith-based cooling center, please contact Arizona Faith Network’s Rev. Katie Sexton-Wood at

A directory of these services is posted by the Maricopa Association of Governments:

Albert Celoza, Ph.D., is the executive director of the Arizona Interfaith Movement