Gwen Schwartz’s journey into her position at UGM was so much more than a job search. God prepared her with the passion, experience and skills she needs to serve him as Director of Ministry Advancement. We asked her a few questions to get to know her and what drives her passion for this ministry.
What are three words you would use to describe your life and why?
Saved, from myself, my past and for eternity.
Blessed, because I am, beyond measure.
Thankful I’m not walking this journey alone, because I have Jesus as my guide.
Tell us a bit about your work background.
I raised my children the first 20 years of my marriage and only started working outside the home when our first daughter began exploring college. I stepped into a role at Providence Portland Medical Foundation as a Legacy Giving Coordinator. I realized I really enjoyed creating engagement for our donors and aligning their passion to their giving.
After 10 years growing in development work within Providence, I stepped out to take a job as a Development Director for a small nonprofit hospice in Washington County. It was basically a one-and-a-half-person job, responsible for all the board recruitment/stewardship, fundraising, events, marketing, and a role on the leadership team of five. It was a wonderful experience, but the commute in Portland was 1.3 hours each way and sometimes more.
Do you have personal experience with homelessness?
My 14-year-old younger sister fled the alcoholic and abusive household we grew up in, trying to survive on her own. She got stuck in addiction and homelessness, dependent on whoever and whatever it took to get through each day.
We tried having her live with us and my elder sister did the same, but what she really needed was a recovery program. In our brokenness and inability to understand our own wounds from childhood, we couldn't be the counselors that we wanted to be for her. We wanted to help her, but we couldn’t.
What brought you to UGM?
When I left the hospice job, I started praying about what God would have me do, and he gave me Proverbs 37:4-5: “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you your heart’s desires. Commit everything you do to the Lord. Trust him and he will help you.” And Jeremiah 29:11: “ ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’ ”
At the time, my husband and I were walking through the Genesis Process and learning more about why we do the sinful things we do over and over again … what is at the root of this stuff? Surviving domestic violence as a child had left me broken in so many ways and stuck in some nasty cycles. I’d tried counseling over the years, but when I really had to look at the lies and immaturity in my life, God stepped in and cleaned house. He broke down strongholds and showed me who he designed me to be, rather than what I was “told I was” for so many formative years.
I prayed, “Lord, can I work to further your kingdom? Can you put me in ministry with the hurting folks like me? For years, I have felt guilty because I couldn’t do anything to help my sister. Can I help others?”
I applied to multiple ministries in the Portland area and never got a call back. At the same time my husband, daughter and son-in-law were praying about next steps for them after leaving the military. My husband and I prayed, knowing God had put us on the track of change!
After much research, Spokane was one of the top picks. I had never moved more than 8 miles away from where I grew up, so this was big! My family suggested I reach out to UGM in Spokane to see if they might be looking to fill a position that I could qualify for. Conversations over five months turned into an interview in January 2015. I started this position on April 1, 2015.
What is different about working at UGM?
Working at UGM is like no other development “work” I’ve ever done. Some of my “best practice” training comes in handy, but by and large it’s learning to work in tandem with Jesus and his team.
It’s taken some time to learn and lean into him instead of my own understanding, to go with him (especially when he makes me drop my walls of defense) into situations that might be uncomfortable, but where he knew I needed to grow. That’s what makes this “work” more like a growth opportunity every day. I’m challenged to live as an authentic follower of Christ in all my relationships at work and with our ministry partners.
This is the real deal! It is ministry and serving, and we all have a passion to be here. Our volunteers all have a passion to be here! It is awesome.
What does your title – Director of Ministry Advancement – mean?
I advance the mission by inviting deeper relationship with our existing and new financial contributors. I lead our efforts in the goal of bringing additional/continued financial support to UGM by inviting individual ministry partners to see first-hand the impact of their support. Would people be blessed by a tour of our facilities, camp, etc.? Almost every time, those who have taken me up on the invitation will say, “I am so glad I did this!”
First, I acknowledge them and express gratitude on behalf of UGM. Then I listen to them share their story.
Second, I invite them in to see the amazing ways lives are being changed by their partnership in this ministry. I shepherd them towards a volunteer orientation so they can learn about the ways they can step in with their time and talents. God does the rest.
What do you want the community at large to know about UGM’s ministry partners?
THEY ARE FAITHFUL and generous and alert to the calling of God in their lives. I've never experienced so many Christ followers demonstrating by their actions and words that they are sold out to God and what he is doing to serve the poor and vulnerable in our community. They are unwavering!
Over time their faithful gifts have impacted countless lives. We recognize their relationship with UGM and with God and want to honor that in whatever way is meaningful to them.
How have you been blessed by one of UGM’s ministry partners?
There are many times when I’ve been completely stunned by the abundant generosity of people in this community. It’s amazing! But the blessing comes in meeting them and hearing their personal story: what their career was, their family life, and what their connection is to UGM and when it started.
I hear things like “I’ve known the Altmeyers for years,” “our church has always been a partner,” “my son has been addicted for years,” “I grew up in foster care; my mom and I could have used the Crisis Shelter,” “I know the gospel changes lives and that’s what UGM does,” and there are many more. It’s a lovely tapestry that God weaves together to bring the workers and the suppliers of resources to get the work done.
I met one couple who have been married 75 years! Rolland and Mary Farnsworth have been partners for many, many years, and Rolland was a UGM board member in the late '60s and early '70s. I loved getting to know them.
What does a “typical day” look like for you?
I spend a lot of time on the phone, reaching out to express thanks, invite ministry partners in to visit any our facilities or join us at events. Sometime I get the pleasure of drop-in company at the mission and I can walk them through UGM's timeline and show them the facility.
I make a lot of calls and drive a lot of miles to catch our partners at home to deliver receipts and gifts of appreciation. That's a big part of the job because they are busy people! When I am able to meet them face-to-face at their home or business, those are the best times. I get to hear about their life and experiences, how they became involved with UGM and what other things are important to them in life.
What is a Scripture that is particularly meaningful to you right now?
In Spokane I’ve joined Bible Study Fellowship, and it has been great to be going deeper into God’s Word. Right now we are studying the book of Romans. Speaking about Abraham in Romans 4:20: “Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.”
It reminds me of the promise God gave us as we ventured out on this journey. We’ve not wavered in our belief that this is where he wanted us, but we staggered a bit during the journey, strengthened by the prayers of others and fully persuaded that God had all the details covered to fulfill what he designed for us to do. It’s been a step of faith in so many ways, and God has made himself and his peace available to us along the way.
When you look at where UGM was 66 years ago and where it is today, it seems to me like there has been the faith of Abraham lived out by the leadership, financial donors, and staff over and over again.
You are a wife, mom and grandma in addition to your role at UGM. Tell us a bit about what brings you joy in your personal life.
My heart bursts with joy when my entire family is gathered together. The conversation, laughter, hearty discussions, games, and food do this mother’s heart good, because it is rare.
Rick and I have been married for 37 years. We have two daughters and a son. Our eldest took her nursing degree and went to work for the Department of Defense in Germany. Simultaneously, our second daughter married military, which took them to Texas. The following year, our son headed to University of Colorado Denver for his bachelor’s degree. Very quickly, Rick and I had to adjust to an empty nest.
Now we have one daughter and her family living here in Spokane. Our eldest married Air Force and they have been stationed everywhere, and our son is pursuing his master’s degree at Kings College in London. We love our sons-in-law and are proud of their service to our nation. We now have four granddaughters, and there will be another addition sometime in May.
What are you personally most grateful for right now?
I’m very thankful for healthy relationships with our children, their spouses and our grandchildren. It is a blessing for sure.
I’m thankful that God can take my broken pieces, put them together with my husband’s, then mend, heal, grow and change us into his intentional design. We’re grateful to be continually growing in our knowledge of the one we serve: not living in fear, but walking a journey of renewal and faith!
Gwen wants to help the poor and homeless because God called and led her here. Is he calling you? Download our free ebook to explore God's love for the poor and what it means to you and me.