Salvation Army’s Robbin Swales off to new post

Once in awhile, there are people who walk into our lives and add depth to the vibrant lifeblood pulsing through the currents of the community.

For many Cordovans, Lieutenant Robbin Swales, of the Salvation Army, Cordova Outpost, is one of those people.

Swales departed Cordova June 27, for her new duty assignment at The Salvation Army’s Ray and Joan Kroc Center in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.

Swales’ tenure began nearly three years ago, when she arrived on an Alaska Marine Highway ferry.

“I was awestruck the entire trip,” Swales said. “When we came around the corner and I could see Cordova for the very first time, I still remember thanking God for such an amazing opportunity.”

It wasn’t just the scenery that touched Swales’ heart.

“The beauty of our surroundings didn’t stop with just nature,” she said. “As I settled in, people began introducing themselves to me, asking me what’s going on, always making me feel welcome and at home. Cordova’s people are beautiful.”

Over the past three years, Swales has led church services in the Salvation Army’s small chapel in the rear of the thrift store, revamped the food bank and social services programs, guided women’s studies and substance abuse programs, and more.

She also learned why people say Copper River Salmon is better than salmon caught anywhere else in the world. And, she learned a little bit about commercial fishing.

“I was told when I first came here, that I would become a salmon snob,” Swales said laughing. “Well, I’ve arrived!”

But what she really learned was what it means to be part of a community.

“Being able to revive The Salvation Army as a viable part of this community is something that touches my heart,” she said. “To be able to work alongside other churches, providers and individuals as a team, meeting the needs of Cordovans has lifted me up so many times.”

Swales rarely, if ever, took a day off. If that meant she had to be in uniform and stockings 24/7, Swales did it. Humble and good-natured, she would never admit it was more than her duty to her community, and to her life’s work.

“The thrift store has seen vast improvements and we have great hopes there will be more improvements in the future,” Swales said. “The church has grown from a Sunday bible study with one person who attended, to a full-on Sunday morning worship experience.”

There are weekday women’s meetings, bible studies, a food bank, the computer lab and new life skills classes, she said. Celebrate Recovery and Narcotics Anonymous meetings are onsite. “We have a local, functioning Salvation Army Advisory Council,” Swales said. “And we are well on our way to moving from outpost status to a corps.”

Swales is a bright spot to folks she crosses paths with.

“She’s always active, busy and she’s proactive,” said Dave Craig. Craig and his wife Tara Craig, serve on the Salvation Army-Cordova Outpost’s Advisory Board.

Swales said she will miss the community and the people here, but is excited about her new post. Prior to departing Cordova for Idaho, she was in contact with former Cordovan Chad Lamb. Lamb is also a part of the Salvation Army and was eager to talk to Swales about their Cordova connection.

Swales will be an associate officer with the Salvation Army at the Kroc Center, along with two officers currently there.

“It is a huge community center,” she said. “The campus is home to a swim center that has a large lap pool, a family fun pool, a fitness center with equipment and an indoor track and a rock climbing wall. They have life skills classes for all ages, a 10-week day camp in the summer, and seniors’, women’s, men’s and children’s Christian programming, and a large theater that is used not only for Sunday services, but for the Coeur d’Alene performing arts community.”

Changing of the guard

Swales’ replacements arrived in Cordova on June 29.

Lt. Antonio Romero and his wife, Lt. Heather Romero, are settling into the Salvation Army on Main Street. The Romeros are making themselves at home, meeting residents, volunteering at functions including Main Street Fourth of July celebration and learning the ropes of this fishing town.

“We want to give a wonderful Cordova welcome to Lt. Antonio and Lt. Heather Romero,” Swales said. “They may be overwhelmed the first month with a few trips to Anchorage and back, so if you see them on the ferry, say hello, offer them a smile, and even helpful tidbits that only locals know. Cordova will be blessed, I am certain.”

She said Cordova will always be in her heart.

“I’ve made some amazing, lifelong friends,” Swales said. “There are so many people here who have shown such love, support, direction and kindness to me. I’d like to give a special ‘shout out,’ to everyone who has been a large part of everyday life at the Cordova Outpost.”
Swales’s upbeat, quirky sense of humor will be missed, too.

“Robbin has such a great personality,” Tara Craig said. “She loves to laugh. Whenever we worked together on a project, I found her to be very compassionate about the people here and her job. She’s compassionate in general. We really enjoyed having her here.”

Anyone wishing to contact Lt. Robbin Swales can email her at the Salvation Army, via robbin.swales@usw.salvationarmy.org.

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Cinthia Gibbens-Stimson is a staff writer and photographer for The Cordova Times. She has been writing in one form or another for 30-plus years and has had a longstanding relationship with The Cordova Times starting in 1989. She's been an Alaskan since 1976 and first moved to Cordova in 1978. She's lived in various West Texas towns; in Denver, Colorado; in McGrath, Cordova, Galena, Kodiak, Wasilla, Anchorage and Fairbanks, Alaska and in Bangalore, India. She has two children and three grandchildren. She can be reached at cgibbens-stimson@thecordovatimes.com or follow her on Instagram @alaskatoindia.