If you have been homeless in Adams County, if you have helped someone in a crisis, if you have recycled something or if you have shopped thrift stores on a tight budget, you probably know about the Adams Rescue Mission (ARM) east of Gettysburg on the Lincoln Highway. You may not know the soft-spoken leader behind the helping agency, Bruce Dietrick, who has guided the growing ministry for four decades.
Now, in his 40th year of leadership of the Adams Rescue Mission, Dietrick looks forward more often than backward, but the view over his shoulder is quite the success story. And his recently announced intention to retire triggered a lot of appreciation for the road he has traveled.
ARM is the highest profile social ministry organization providing shelter and support within Adams County, touching scores of lives on any given day. ARM provides direct shelter for up to 30 men, 10 families, with training opportunities, food and a lot of spiritual support. The mission includes the original shelter for homeless men located at 2515 York Road where the Thrift Shop and recycling center are also located. A family shelter with 10 units is located in the borough of Gettysburg.
Dietrick’s story with ARM began when he was appointed director of men’s ministry in 1983, and soon after became interim executive director and then its permanent executive. He was at the time one of three staff members, and now works with 15 mostly full-time staff and a highly committed team of 20 regular volunteers.
When Dietrick recently let the mission’s board of directors know he intends to retire, he gave a timetable of three months to a year to find his successor. Reactions, he said, have been a mixture of anxious surprise and lots of gratitude among his colleagues and supporters.
His shoes will not be easy to fill, given his long and effective tenure guiding the organization. Will Hudson, board chair, summarized his service: “Bruce Dietrick has been tireless in his commitment to the ministry’s mission ‘to proclaim the passion of Jesus toward the hungry, homeless, abused, and addicted; to accelerate recovery and restoration to the least, last, lonely, and lost.’ All who serve and support the Adams Rescue Mission are deeply grateful to him and look to a bright future because of the strong foundation he has built.”
Last year alone, ARM provided nearly 21,000 meals, and almost 7,000 nights’ lodging in the men’s center. Another 36 were sheltered in the 10 units of Agape House in Gettysburg. Additionally, its thrift store has tripled during Dietrick’s leadership and contributes revenue to the overall program. A major recycling operation remains vital and a new greenhouse also channels annual flowers to brighten area gardens.
The size of the operation has quadrupled under his leadership, adding land and buildings, and many new programs, donations and revenue sources along the way. But Dietrick is reluctant to take any credit for the highly adaptive and effective growth in the mission.
“I am more of a spectator watching this spirit-led activity all around me,” he said.
Dietrick didn’t want a retirement story about himself, but credits a dedicated team of staff members, 15 valuable people who take on the mission and work of ARM.
Connie Keller, who has worked with Dietrick for 27 years, highlighted his patience, his persistence, and his ability to push people to grow.
“I had no experience with computers, but he pushed me,” she said. “He modernized and brought the ARM into a new era. What he had was a ‘stick-to-it-ness’ with residents and staff, and if it didn’t work he would try something new to help residents.”
Before municipal recycling, ARM was the largest if not the only recycling facility and program in the county, operating before large waste haulers’ took it on. For a time, ARM made Adams County the largest recycler in the state.
“We set up curbside programs” and picked up paper, cardboard and plastic long before the big corporate efforts came along. ARM still ships tons of paper, plastic, clothing and cardboard to be turned into useful products and materials.
ARM meets its mission goals on private donations only, and Dietrick values this as perhaps ARM’s greatest achievement. “No government funds” underwrite any of the programs. Keeping the program private protects an explicit, unapologetically spiritual focus to ARM, with frequent chapel time, counseling and strength drawn from traditional Christian sources.
ARM has successfully adapted its program under Dietrick, navigating changes in community needs and other external changes in external conditions.
“The recycling dip six years ago caused ARM to adjust its program,” moving away from electronics; recycling and trying something new, like the greenhouse. The greenhouse became a new tool to teach clients, whom he refers to as “resident guests,” how “to work, how to work hard, and how to work together.”
In his self-deprecating way, Dietrick tries to downplay his role in ARM’s success.
“I don’t have a lot of skills really, but I know how to listen,” he said.
And he knows how to tell good stories that are part of ARM’s shining history. Listening brings him ideas for new ways to help people. He pointed out a large bin of stuffed animal toys which he said were at the ready to go to a future natural disaster location, a place where many children have been displaced so that in the midst of their loss, they can have at least a toy to hang onto.
The hardest part of his work at the mission has been to hear and absorb some of the difficult stories of those coming through the mission.
“Most of our resident guests carry a lot of trauma, and just hearing people’s stories is sometimes very hard. Seeing some healing really helps,” he said.
Dietrick is pleased by the fact that he sees less recidivism in ARM’s work with resident guests, compared to others who might find themselves trying to rebuild lives broken by substance abuse, and the fallout from it. His most frequent framework for ARM’s mission is captured in his phrase “we sow into people as one would consider investing in people.”
He told a story about one resident who worked in the recycling center, whom ARM was able to train and certify as a forklift operator.
“Now he makes a living driving a forklift at an area company,” Dietrick said with a smile. “We don’t do three hots and a cot, but it’s a sowing into people’s lives. That’s what has kept me here.”
Wayne Steinour, who served as ARM Board chair for a decade, verified Bruce’s under the radar leadership style: “I consider Bruce to be one of those unsung heroes who have touched so many lives with very little notoriety. His leadership style of humility, empathy and care for the needs of others is evident to all.
The board is launching a search for Dietrick’s successor and will seek qualified applicants locally, regionally, and nationally. Dietrick has pledged his full cooperation to assure a smooth transition and his continuing commitment to the future success of the Adams Rescue Mission.
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