Behind the scenes at UGM, you’ll find a number of people who don’t like to attract attention, but whose work is essential to the mission of reaching the poor with the Gospel so they may return to society as contributing members.
One of those people is Dean Bitz, director of operations, who oversees all of the functional underpinnings so the visible ministries of UGM can be effective. We asked Dean a few questions about his life, work, and heart for the ministry.
What is your family background? Where did you grow up?
Until the age of 9 I grew up in a single parent home. Mom and Dad were divorced before I was a year old. My biological dad was nonexistent and had a reputation for sleeping around and drinking. We only saw him once a summer when he would pick us up, only to drop us off at his sister’s farm. At the end of summer, he would pick us up and take us back home.
I am the youngest of three siblings, one brother and one sister. Mom remarried when I was 9 to a man she met at church, the priest! After they were married, he became a Lutheran pastor. At that time we moved from North Dakota to Oregon. Growing up we lived in North Dakota, Oregon, and Washington. I graduated from Anacortes High School.
I’ve lived in Spokane since 1984. In 1989, I met my beautiful wife Debbie at Calvary Chapel when it was on Nora Street. We have been very happily married for 29 years. We have two handsome boys, 22 and 24, who love the Lord and are learning to walk with Him daily.
Tell us about your career path. When and how did that lead to the Union Gospel Mission?
I discovered in high school what I wanted to do, and that was accounting. I graduated from Whitworth College [before it was a university] with business administration and accounting degrees.
My first job was with Farmers and Merchants Bank. After a few years, I began working with TNT United Truck Lines as their staff accountant. United went through a merger with its sister company, USF Reddaway, and I began work at Black’s Industrial, an HVAC wholesale company, as their comptroller. Black’s is only three blocks away from the Mission.
In 1996, I received a call from our friend Dave Wall telling me that UGM was looking for their first Business Administrator. He introduced me to the Mission over a bowl of venison (so the story goes) and the rest is history. Another interesting part of this journey is that one of the men I knew from Farmers and Merchants Bank was the Treasurer of the UGM Board of Directors. He and Phil Altmeyer were the ones who interviewed and hired me.
One of my earliest memories is of a day I went to work with my mom when I was 5 or 6. She was working as a legal secretary in an office that was alongside the railroad tracks. I got bored and wandered outside and was walking on the tracks. A homeless man walked by me, and we made eye contact, but nothing else happened. In my life I’ve recalled that memory for some reason even before I began working at the Mission. I used to wonder about the significance of it.
I like to think that God had a direction and a plan for me, and here I am. Sorry, Dave, I have to give credit where it is due.
From your perspective, what are a few of the biggest changes UGM has undergone while you’ve been here?
What hasn’t changed? I’m in my 22nd year now, and pretty much everything has changed. When I started working at UGM, there was the Men’s Mission, Anna Ogden Hall, and the camp. I came when the 1996 remodel of AOH had just been completed.
I think there were around 18 staff members, and the budget was close to $1.2 million. Now there are 180 staff and our budget is over $12 million.
What hasn’t changed is our mission to share the gospel with everyone who comes through the doors of our shelters.
What is your absolute favorite part of working at UGM? What is the most challenging part?
My favorite part about working at UGM is knowing that I am working where God is at work. He has given me the gift of administration, and I thoroughly love the diversity in my job. From finance to HR to operations, I find myself involved in nearly every aspect of what we do to some extent.
On the operations side, I indirectly provide oversight to the Thrift Stores, UGM Motors, maintenance, and IT. In all of my departments, I have excellent leaders and staff I can rely on to directly oversee those areas of ministry and do an excellent job.
The most challenging part is recruiting new staff. As a Christian organization committed to only hiring people that hold to the tenets of the Christian faith, UGM has a need for every kind of worker. We have professional staff who work with the guests, full service culinary departments in every shelter, staff that maintain all our buildings, thrift stores and an auto dealership, job training and education, childcare and administrative fields. With all that diversity, it’s difficult to find quality staff that have been gifted and called to work in our ministry.
How do you see UGM’s core values of Stewardship and Total Accountability practiced in your area?
My departments are finance, human resources and operations. We manage all of the money that the Lord provides. We pay every expense, every employee, create and manage the budget, manage employee benefits, make decisions that keep our facilities and vehicles operating.
With all that, I can say our greatest asset is our staff and our purpose is divine. From the money that is given to the vehicles and household items that are donated, we do our best to maximize the use of our resources for the sole purpose of providing facilities and services that build the dignity of those we serve. Our directors and managers are conscientious about their budgets, and as a department of rule keepers, Administration and HR are here to make sure everything is accounted for properly.
What’s amazing to me is the faithfulness of God to work through the people of Spokane and Coeur d’Alene to provide for the people that are near to His heart. Every year during the budget process, I am careful not to be presumptuous of God and His provision. However, as our services have increased, so has His provision for our needs.
What about your “behind-the-scenes” job might surprise people outside UGM?
I think what would surprise people outside of UGM is simply the business side of our operations. It’s easy to see the ministry side of the services we provide and the people we serve, but what I think people would be surprised about is the size of UGM and the volume of resources it takes for us to operate, and all that it takes to manage a $12 million budget and 180 staff.
One of my jobs is to manage compensation and benefits. I think one of the perceptions of people outside UGM is that if you want to go to work for a nonprofit, you’re going to have to sacrifice making a living wage and live a minimalist lifestyle. Although our industry isn’t lucrative, we still have to be competitive in the workplace in order to attract quality staff.
In the last several years we have been working alongside our Board of Directors to create an excellent compensation and benefits package. Taking care of our staff is a priority for our HR department, and we continue to look for better and smarter ways to provide for the needs of our staff.
After 21 years, I can still say this is the best place I’ve ever worked. It is the most rewarding place to work, even on a bad day.
Tell us about an interaction you had with a UGM resident/client that meant a lot to you.
Working behind the scenes I don’t often work directly with the clients. I’ll usually build a relationship with some when they’re working at the enterprises, or exercising in the gym.
One thing I do with the clients is provide forklift safety training. As needed, I will provide forklift safety training, and as a certified forklift instructor, I am able to provide them a certificate that is good for three years and may potentially help them get a job.
“Administration” doesn’t sound like the most fun-filled place to work, but we’ve seen glimpses of your fun side. What do you enjoy doing to relax?
My wife will say to me, “If you’re happy, or having fun, or enjoying yourself, notify your face.” One of my favorite shirts was a T-shirt with the nine faces of Chuck Norris, one for each of his moods. They all look the same. I know I can tend to be expressionless and appear to be aloof, but I’m not, really.
If you get me talking about hunting, or fishing, or golf, or exercise, or nutrition, you better watch out. I may come alive. I also have a somewhat dry sense of humor. If you catch me on a good day you could witness that too.
My best friend is my wife and I like doing anything with her. We have gone camping for almost all of our vacations. We like going for walks and watching movies. A joke in our family is me defaulting to Pirates of the Caribbean, or Jurassic Park. I like the Marvel movies and enjoy chick flicks on occasion too.
I also like to exercise, play golf, hunt and fish. I am currently sighting my bow in for the archery elk season.
Dean didn’t mention his dramatic flair, but here is one example: Embodying the character of “Pierre” at the 2011 All-Staff Conference.
Tell us about a favorite Scripture or one you remember often in your day-to-day life and work.
I don’t know that I have one favorite scripture, but God’s word is vital for me. Nearly every morning I am spending time with the Lord. Even when I miss a day, I feel like I’ve neglected the most important relationship I have. Not in a guilty way – just that I missed out some piece of wisdom, or grace that He had for me that day.
As a highly cognitive person, my favorite book is Proverbs. However, I really enjoy reading the Old Testament to prove the New Testament, and reading the promises we can live for, and hearing about my identity in Christ. I also like how it shows how the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit work together, and all of the characteristics of our God.
What (other than the Bible) is your favorite book that you’ve read in the past 5 years?
Well, aside from Cabela’s magazine…I really enjoy reading leadership books. But I’m quite diverse. I also like reading Christian romance novels with my wife. Currently we’re reading the Nancy Drew mystery series together. We got almost a whole set free from a garage sale.
Editor’s note: When Dean’s wife saw his answers, she couldn’t contain herself: He was being too humble. So we let her add a few more things:
- He’s a great cook.
- He’s a great dancer and a great singer.
- He does the books for their church and leads small groups at their home.
- He is the guy their neighbors know they can go to when they need help with anything.
“Dean surpassed my very long list of ‘essential’ character traits and continues to bless me every day with his love, devotion to God, our family, and the work the Lord calls him to.”
Dean mentioned one of the most important aspects of charitable work - being accountable for how donated resources are used. Here are a few more tips to help you decide where best to direct your limited resources.