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Trading a business suit for a swim suit

Former bank president chooses to give his time during retirement
John Irwin Pool Volunteer
Posted at 7:27 AM, Dec 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-22 09:03:58-05

GRAND RAPIDS, MI — For some, dreams of retirement include leisure, relaxation, maybe travel and time with family. For others, it's an opportunity to take on new challenges and make a difference in the world around them. There are so many ways to use your time for good, it's a gift to both the volunteer and those they choose to serve.

When John Irwin was approaching retirement, he says it was time to decide what he wanted to stop doing and what he wanted to start doing. That led this former Huntington Bank president to the swimming pool at the David D. Hunting YMCA in downtown Grand Rapids.

He says, "I decided I want to start dealing with one person at a time helping, especially the kids in the inner city. So, I reached out to the wife and said, ‘Hey, I’m a triathlete I spend a lot of time in the pool I’d love to serve and help. I don't want to get paid I just want to serve kids.’"

Every Thursday morning, you will find John here, teaching kids water safety. "A lot of these kids have never been exposed to water so it's a great chance to build their confidence to know that they're comfortable in the water if they ever jumped in, they don't know how to get out. And then maybe some of them become swimmers in the GRPS system"

It's one of many opportunities open to those who have the time and desire to give back to their community. YMCA Aquatics and Safety Director Becky Haveman says, "we have some wonderful aquatics programming, but in order to make it work, we need bodies. We need lifeguards and we need swim instructors both in paid positions and or as volunteers so however people want to get involved, we can make that happen"

For John, it's been a natural transition to retired life. "I always say if I wasn't going to be a banker or executive what would I have been? I would have been a teacher or a coach or a pastor, so now it's a chance to pursue those sorts of things and make a difference in our great community."

Now he's encouraging other people like him to think about jumping into volunteerism. He says it’s the most rewarding thing he’s done in a long time. He enjoys the fact that he can look these kids in the eye – and they greet him with such excitement after seeing him just once a week for a few months. He’s hoping more people like him, who have served on boards or those who are approaching the end of their corporate lives are able to give back because the community needs it.

The YMCA also has plenty of opportunities that don't involve the pool - dozens of programs need people to help them run. You can click here for more information on the Safety Around Water Program or here for more information about volunteering or internships.