Marc Rittle once pretended he was homeless.
It was Thanksgiving weekend in the ‘90s, and the National Coalition for the Homeless walked him through what it is like to live on the streets of Wichita, Kansas. Rittle recalls walking behind an alley and witnessing someone residing in a Saran-wrapped house between two dumpsters.
“It was a pretty interesting experience,” Rittle said. “But it did open my eyes as to what a homeless person goes through.”
Rittle, the executive director of New Bethany Ministries, has always made it his duty to help people in poverty and those who live “paycheck to paycheck.” He puts others before himself, listens closely to clients and co-workers, provides new ideas and goes above and beyond to ensure that he is directly involved in Bethlehem. He has that mindset of giving back to those in need.
Kim Schaffer, executive director of Community Bike Works, said Rittle is dedicated to the community and is willing to do anything to solve a problem.
She said he’s a generous person and his impact is centered around bringing people together. He is willing to work in partnerships in “really some out-of-the-box ways,” Schaffer said.
She said a good executive director is fantastic at making sure their organization is strong internally, while ensuring that the nonprofit meets the needs of the community externally.
“Marc understands and knows how to really balance those two,” Schaffer said.
Rittle was born in Lebanon, Pennsylvania, but moved to Oswego, Illinois, with his family when he was in fourth grade. His father was the pastor of a Protestant church, and spending most of his time in the church helped him identify his values and goals.
“For my entire life, I have had this sort of justice ethic,” he said. “No matter what it is I was doing. I was doing it to try and help people who had less than me.”
Rittle got a research assistant position at the United Way in Chicago as a graduate student at Loyola University. Later on, he was offered a full-time job.
He moved over to the United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley after moving to Bethlehem in 2011.
Rittle said he was involved in grant-making and helped design plans for people struggling with food insecurity and homelessness.
“He remembers your name.”
–Darlene Hermony, resident of New Bethany’s Single Room Occupancy program
After leading workshops for executive directors and learning how to manage a nonprofit, Rittle wanted to become the executive director of one.
New Bethany Ministries was his perfect match.
“Hunger and homelessness,” Rittle said. “The mission of New Bethany is exactly what I described my entire life progression as being. It usually had to do with poverty and helping people who are in poverty.”
Darlene Hermony, resident of New Bethany’s Single Room Occupancy program, was at a point in her life where she was living in a car. She said Rittle and New Bethany had been a blessing for her.
“He remembers your name,” Hermony said. “He’s very aware of us and stuff like that. He used to bring a lot of people through the soup kitchen and out here in the garden.”
Jamie Justinano, another resident of the occupancy program, lost his house on the North Side and came to New Bethany with help from other caseworkers.
He said Rittle complimented him on his artwork and told him that he should place them in stores and restaurants so people would notice.
“He comes for the people like us,” Justinano said. “He talks to us. He asks us questions like how are we doing.”
Rittle said there is a spike in unemployment in the area and residents have either been evicted from their homes or cannot afford to pay rent. In response, Rittle helped start a new program that provides housing assistance and financial counseling.
“Whether it’s getting a better job, accessing benefits in a better way, finding a place to live that has a lower cost of living, that’s what we’re here to do,” Rittle said.
Joanne Anderson, a board member of New Bethany Ministries, said Rittle is a caring leader who has tremendous patience. She said he has a sense of humor, which is required when controlling a place like New Bethany.
“I’ve been in meetings with Marc with 20 or 30 people, and I can tell you that there’s not ever one person in that meeting that doesn’t feel that he is listening, paying attention and cares about what everyone else’s opinions are,” Anderson said.
Rittle said he loves participating in the Lehigh Valley community and will attend big events such as Musikfest with his family. He said it’s important to take advantage of community resources and events, believing it improves his overall quality of life.