LEWISTON — Moving back to Maine hadn’t been a good thing.

After a divorce in 2007, Jennifer Gaylord said she returned to her home state to be closer to family — but inside, it felt like “the end of the world. Life as we knew it was over.”

It was — but it got better. 

For the past three years, Gaylord, 35, headed the local branch of the American Red Cross. Her work is disaster. Next month, she’s starting a new, statewide role with the nonprofit.

Next year, she’ll hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, just for fun.

She sounds a little wistful about spending less time in Lewiston, a place she’s grown to appreciate as she’s seen people continually reach out to strangers in crisis.

“It’s just great to see what an amazing, close-knit community this is,” Gaylord said. “Everyone is willing to lend a hand.”

Gaylord was born in Maine, but grew up in the foothills of the White Mountains in New Hampshire. In college, she double-majored in government and French, and she figured she was headed for law school.

At the end of the first summer after graduation from Skidmore College, “I thought about what I really liked to do — and I loved kids, so I gave that a shot,” Gaylord said.

She became a preschool teacher.

Gaylord said she did a lot of thinking after her divorce about goals and priorities.

“I realized that some of the important things in my life were volunteering and traveling,” she said.

A role with the United Way of Greater Portland led to the connection that landed the job here.

Her first big disaster? The Japanese earthquake and tsunami in March 2011.

Colleagues warned her to get ready.

“I was like, ‘What are you talking about? It’s Japan.’ All of a sudden, the phones are blowing up, email is coming in,” she said.

Local people wanted to donate and they wanted to help.

The largest local emergency under her watch was the series of downtown fires in April and May 2013 that left scores of Lewiston residents homeless. Again, people wanted to help. Media wanted to talk to her.

“We would just get stacks of mail during the Lewiston fires,” Gaylord said. Some were checks. “A lot of them were note cards: ‘You’re doing an amazing job.’ People were really kind during that. It was a crazy time.”

In a crisis, her role is to be the public face, raise funds and manage 100 volunteers. Starting in January, she’ll move to a new role for the American Red Cross as its first major gifts officer. She’ll meet and work with major donors statewide.

“I really want to take my career in a more fundraising-focused direction,” Gaylord said.

Before then, she’s looking forward to a holiday concert at the Franco Center; she plays French horn in the Auburn Community Concert Band.

Later in 2015, she’ll travel to Peru and hike Machu Picchu with her best friend. Two years ago, they traveled to China.

“There is so much to see in the world,” Gaylord said.

Know someone everyone knows? Contact staff writer Kathryn Skelton at 689-2844 or [email protected]


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