Charissa Swindoll Gaither is Shelterwood’s first Director of Advancement and Donor Experience. She is tasked with gathering stories from families who have had experiences with Shelterwood and connecting people who believe in Shelterwood’s mission with opportunities to further it.

“My job is to be on the road, all over the United States, visiting with friends of Shelterwood,” explains Charissa.

Charissa spent decades working in development and had been looking for a position she could commit to for the rest of her working life. She wanted to find an organization that was committed to building relationships, not just raising funds.

“That’s what I’m all about,” says Charissa. “I don’t just go out and ask for money. I have to have a relationship with somebody before that’s going to be successful.”

“We speak the same language!”

When she found out about Shelterwood through a friend of CEO Jim Subers, Charissa was intrigued by the residential treatment center’s ability to bring hope to struggling teens and their families.

“I have such a heart to help people in general, but teens are such a fun age,” Charissa shares. “That’s when they can make decisions that can transform their lives for the future. And I wanted to be a part of that.”

She began doing some contract work for Shelterwood this past spring and officially began in  the summer of 2018. It’s been a lot of work, a ton of fun, and great fit for her.

“They are a very welcoming bunch, and it’s a place where I feel at home,” Charissa says. “We speak the same language!”

Hearing compelling stories

Charissa works out of Frisco, Texas, and she travels to Shelterwood about once a quarter to stay connected. Otherwise, her new role takes her on the road about every other week. She loves the travel, especially because it allows her to spend time with new people and hear their amazing stories.

She visits with families, gets updates about former students, and shares what’s going on at Shelterwood—including current efforts to boost Shelterwood’s scholarship fund.

“Shelterwood has never had a full-time Development Director before,” Charissa explains. “But because we have a desire to help more kids, we need to work on the fundraising aspect, so we can provide that help for more teens and their families.”

Charissa’s favorite part of the job is hearing how Shelterwood has changed the lives of not only teenagers, but their entire families. “I know what it’s like to have children who aren’t making the right choices for their life, and to feel the desperation parent’s feel when they are at a loss to know how to help their children who are hurting themselves and others. I was a single parent for many years and it is a very lonely journey!  At Shelterwood one of our greatest desires is to help teens and their parents find answers and relief.”.

“We work very hard with the families as well as with the teens,” Charissa says. “I love that! I know of some places where you send your teen off, and you don’t hear from them for months…but at Shelterwood, we stay very connected with the families.”

That profound family impact spurs many people to want to extend it to others. Some give directly to Shelterwood’s tuition assistance program, and others refer Charissa to philanthropists who also share Shelterwood’s heart for helping young people in crisis.

A shared experience

When Charissa isn’t going coast-to-coast meeting with friends of Shelterwood, she loves interior decorating, designing and making her own jewelry, and spending time with her husband, friends and family—including her grandkids and adult children. “It is such a delight,” Charissa laughs.  “I am thrilled with where the Lord has placed me and my desire is to represent Christ with the people I have the honor meeting on a daily basis.”


Do you want to help teens reclaim their value and find their purpose? Reach out directly to Charissa at to learn how you can help Shelterwood rescue teens and their families!