Julian Nabozny, owner of five Phoenix-area McDonald’s restaurants, gets up from a booth as a homeless man enters his bustling store on south Central Avenue. The man is carrying a grimy thermos he’s hoping to fill with ice at the soda dispenser.
Blessed Sacrament, Scottsdale
Hispanic Advisory Board, Diocese of Phoenix; feeding the hungry
What he loves about being a Catholic:
God has been there to help me in my life through rough times and good times and I am able to share my experiences and my beliefs with my three children. They have grown up to be adults who love God and believe in God. They will continue to live that faith in God and hopefully pass that on to their kids. I have a lot to be thankful for.
Year of Faith Quote:
My parents and the way they brought me up believing in God and believing in the Catholic faith. When I was a kid, we used to go to church on Sundays.
[/quote_box_left]“Sir, you can’t bring that in here, but we’ll give you some ice,” Nabozny tells the man kindly. Around here, Nabozny is known as a big supporter of the community. A member of the Phoenix Police Advisory Board and the Phoenix Police Task Force, Nabozny has been opening the South Phoenix McDonald’s on Thanksgiving for the last 20 years to feed the hungry. Thousands show up for the free food and prizes and the kids each receive a toy.
Years ago, former Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon came by to inform Nabozny that the city was going to have to shut down Central Avenue to allow families to cross the street safely for the event.
Nabozny, who spent the first 12 years of his life in Buenos Aires, Argentina, knows what it is like to struggle. He heard the stories of his father’s four brutal years in a Russian concentration camp, and of his mother’s family in Italy sheltering a Jewish family during the Nazi regime.
As immigrants to Chicago, the family lived in the barrio. Nabozny learned to avoid the gangs, drugs and violence and went on to become a high school social studies teacher and soccer coach.
Answering an ad in the newspaper, he applied for ownership of a Chicago McDonalds. The higher-ups liked what they saw: a coach and teacher with a strong work ethic who knew how to handle teenagers. The training for restaurant ownership was intense. Nabozny learned to clean toilets to management’s standards and the company loaned him the money to buy his first restaurant.
“I think that God has put me in this situation where I can afford to give back to my community,” Nabozny said. “It was a plan by the Lord because He saved my life three times.”
In one such incident, at age 15, Nabozny was injured in a soccer game and fell into a coma. He was eventually able to conquer paralysis and loss of speech.
“The Lord was with me and I was able to overcome these problems,” Nabozny said. His recovery, he said, was God’s way of allowing him to later be in a position of influence in the community and help find ways to improve people’s lives.
Many of those whom he assists are young people. “Education is the way of success,” Nabozny tells them. “The love of God, family and education” were the three factors that helped him make it, and he stresses that in his work with youth.
“When I was a young kid, things were not too good when we came [to the United States],” Nabozny said. “It only takes someone to see you care for them for you to make a difference in their lives.”