By Christine Galeone, Contributing Writer
Shrewsbury – According to Jeffrey E. Swaim, a member of the American Red Cross of Central Massachusetts Board of Directors, between July 2015 and April, the Red Cross responded to home fires affecting 174 central Massachusetts families. He said it also trained 9,901 area residents in preparedness and health and safety classes. But these are just some of the services that fuel the Shrewsbury resident’s dedication to the nonprofit. A partner at the Mirick O’Connell law firm and a single dad to three children, he’s serving as a board member for the third year in a three-year term. But his admiration for the Red Cross developed years ago.
As a volunteer board member, Swaim and the other members are tasked with providing “guidance to the chapter’s executive director in developing and monitoring local strategies to deliver mission-related services.” They also organize fundraisers and community engagement activities. They’re considered the “Face of the Red Cross” in Central Massachusetts.
But before Swaim became one of those ambassadors, he saw how Red Cross volunteers made a difference. Before he became a lawyer, he worked as a senior claims representative for Prudential, handling several claims involving home fires.
“In many of those cases, the Red Cross was on scene during and after the fire to provide comfort and immediate assistance to the homeowners or tenant,” Swaim said. “People who have been lucky enough not to have been through a house fire often don’t realize how traumatic and devastating a house fire is, even when there is no personal injury or death involved. The Red Cross disaster response teams do an incredible job supporting not only the families…but also the first responders.”
When he was part of Prudential’s catastrophe team, he witnessed volunteers responding to victims of Hurricane Hugo, the 1989 hurricane that wreaked havoc in South Carolina as well as various Caribbean islands. Along with other team members, he was sent to Charleston, S.C.
“I was assigned to help our insureds from a mobile claims office our company set up in an RV that we parked in the debris-filled parking lot of a severely damaged office complex,” Swaim recalled. “During the few weeks that I was there, I saw a number of Red Cross vehicles in the area and was told by several of our insureds that they had been served meals or had been given other assistance by the Red Cross.“
Those experiences nurtured his enthusiasm. While he admitted that having a dedicated team also makes the challenges easier, he said the board did face a significant one recently.
“Our biggest challenge this past year was finding a new executive director for our chapter to replace Lisa Piehler, our beloved executive director for the past 23 years who retired a few months ago,” said Swaim. “We interviewed a number of excellent candidates, including Kim Goulette, who was then serving as executive director of the western Massachusetts chapter of the Red Cross. Kim’s enthusiasm, people skills and experience…made her a perfect fit to replace Lisa. Happily, Kim accepted our offer, and she jumped right in.”
Additionally, Swaim said the board organized many successful fundraisers and events. They included a golf tournament that will be held again this summer and a Heroes Breakfast that recognized local heroes nominated by members of their communities.
“Both of these events take a lot of planning and hard work,” Swaim noted. “The Red Cross operates on a very lean staffing model, so much of the planning work for these events is left to subcommittees of our board. I have been amazed by how much time the board members, all of whom are volunteers and many of whom have full-time jobs, give to help plan these events.”
When he’s not planning an event, practicing law or running the household, he enjoys spending time with his two daughters and son at their games and other extracurricular activities.
“On the rare weekend that no one in the family has something scheduled locally, we try to escape up to our vacation home on a lake…where we enjoy a variety of water sports and other outdoor activities,” shared Swaim.
He also noted, “Once my children are older and I have more free time, I look forward to getting more involved in actually serving on the front lines of the Red Cross and working directly with those served.”
To learn more about the American Red Cross of Central Massachusetts, visit its website, www.redcross.org/local/massachusetts/about-us/chapters/central-ma.