by MaryAlice Bitts-Jackson
College was not a foregone conclusion for Aaron Swift ’07, who experienced poverty, homelessness, abuse and domestic violence as a young child. But with hard work and scholarship support, he graduated from Dickinson and law school. Now, he gives back to others who need a helping hand.
Swift was just 6 years old when he, his mom, Kim, and two siblings fled their St. Petersburg, Florida, home to escape Kim’s abusive husband. It wasn’t the first time Kim, having just given birth to Swift’s youngest sister, had tried to get her children to safety. Boarding a train in the middle of the night with only what they had on their backs, they eventually landed in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The family spent a short time in Carlisle’s Woodrow Wilson House and the Harrisburg YWCA, among other shelters, until Kim saved enough money to rent a modest apartment with government assistance.
Money remained tight when Swift graduated from Cumberland Valley High School with high honors. No one in his family had attended college, but he had an ambitious dream.
“Because of my rough childhood, I always had this romantic vision of going to law school and moving back to Florida to help kids and families who had gone through what I did,” he says. “I knew Dickinson had a great reputation, and I knew that if I did well there, I’d have a good chance of getting into law school and fulfilling my dreams. So I applied.”
Swift attended Dickinson with assistance through a Benjamin Rush Scholarship. He declared a political science major, joined Mock Trial—advancing to Nationals with his team while earning several top advocate awards—and made Dean’s List. He couldn’t afford to live on campus for his first year at Dickinson, but that summer, he was hired as an RA—a position that provided free room and board. He also worked for the Department of Student Life; for the Dean’s Office, as a summer-camp assistant; and at Miseno’s, a local pizza shop. And he held summer jobs at a local pool and the furniture store where Kim worked.
Just a decade after his graduation, Swift (far left) founded Swift Law, a firm focused on helping identity-theft victims. Photo courtesy of Swift.
After graduating cum laude, Swift attend Stetson University College of Law in St. Petersburg, Florida—the very place where his story began. A summer internship with the Department of Children & Families hit a bit too close to home, so he shifted his focus from child and family advocacy to consumer-protection law, helping victims of fraud and identity theft. After working with a local firm for several years, he founded Swift Law in 2017. The firm now includes four partners and is poised to go national.
“Scholarships are so important to ensuring that people who need and deserve it are able to attend college—especially at a Division III school like Dickinson, where there aren’t opportunities for athletics scholarships,” Swift explains. “A student body that’s diverse—socioeconomically, and also in terms of class, race, religion, ethnicity and life experience—also strengthens the institution.”
Swift also gives back to his community, helping to shine a spotlight on homelessness and change perspectives about what it means to be unsheltered. After leading a project that raised more than a quarter-million dollars to renovate a local shelter for pregnant women and teens, he discovered that he, Kim and his siblings had once lived at that organization’s original location, prior to their move to Pennsylvania. Swift then became vice chair of that organization, Alpha House, and now serves as the VP of the Homeless Leadership Alliance, the county-level board that oversees all homelessness providers.
“It’s just important to me, as I grow in my career and build my life, to give back to families and kids,” he says. “My hope is that 20 or 30 years from now, they might give back too, because I do not know where I would be today without it.”
Published August 14, 2023