Child abuse prevention advocate receives first Community Spirit Award

October 12, 2011

Melissa Swathwood energizes a young patient at Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis. Swathwood is the first winner of the APSAC-CSSAC Community Spirit Award. (Photo provided by Melissa Swathwood)

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Community service isn't only a commitment but rather a way of life for Melissa Swathwood.

Swathwood, a research and faculty secretary for the Purdue School of Nursing, was named the first recipient of the Community Spirit Award, presented jointly by the Administrative and Professional Staff Advisory Committee and the Clerical and Service Staff Advisory Committee. The award was announced Oct. 11 at the annual APSAC-CSSAC joint meeting.

Swathwood, a full-time staff member and mother of three, discovered her passion for service when, at age 11, she lost her father and sister in a deadly tornado. According to Swathwood, the tragedy gave her a new perspective how much individuals in need value community assistance.

"The amount of support we received in the aftermath really showed me how strong we can be when people come together," Swathwood says. "My dad was a person who never said no. I wanted to give back because of what people had given my family and let my dad live on that way."

Throughout the years, her family-focused emphasis on community service has not waned. Now, she uses service opportunities as a way to teach her young children about the value of helping those who are less fortunate.

"My family is a huge motivation for me when it comes to volunteering," Swathwood says. "I see the challenges my children or their peers face and it motivates me to help in any way that I can."

Particularly important to her is the fight to speak out about child abuse in Tippecanoe County. Swathwood became involved with the Tippecanoe Child Abuse Prevention Council in 2009 and was named president of the board in 2010. Since then, she has increased local school participation in Child Abuse Prevention Month by 100 percent while also organizing other outreach efforts, including a partnership with the National Crime Victims' Group to bring awareness to the link between domestic violence and child abuse.

In addition to her work with T-CAP, Swathwood organizes events benefitting cancer research, Food Finders Food Bank, March of Dimes, Relay for Life and the American Heart Association. She has been named the first volunteer coordinator for the School of Nursing. Her regularly circulating memo, "Spread Some Cheer and Volunteer" features service opportunities available to nursing faculty and staff.

"To me, community spirit means understanding that our community is just like a family," Swathwood says. "I want people to hear about this award and be inspired to identify a passion for helping others in our community."

APSAC is an organization committed to supporting and serving as a voice for administrative and professional staff. CSSAC was established in 1965 to serve as a means of representative participation for the clerical and service staffs. The APSAC-CSSAC Community Spirit Award will be given annually to an A/P or C/S staff member who sets a high standard for service, encourages a sustained commitment to civic participation and inspires others to make service a central part of their lives.