Many people wonder what retirement will be like. What will they do with unstructured time? What will happen to skills they spent years acquiring? For Jack Irby, after leaving his job as Facilities Director at the Pentagon where he managed a staff of over a thousand employees, the answers to those questions evolved. As he describes it, one thing just sort of lead to another and before too long, he was busier in retirement than he had ever expected.
With five grandchildren in Seattle and four more on the east coast, he felt entitled to take time to enjoy his family. But sitting back and taking it easy doesn’t seem to be part of Jack’s DNA. He had worked with the homeless population before retiring and then heard about Elizabeth Gregory Home from people whose opinions he respected. They told him EGH was doing good work, so he decided to support EGH with financial contributions, thinking there wasn’t much more he could do for a homeless women’s organization.
Then he heard about some furniture that was being replaced by the nearby Ronald McDonald House and wondered if there might be another use for several sturdy pieces. Skills acquired after years of managing facilities came right back. He reached out to EGH staff to see if the pieces might be used for the EGH transitional house where women are able to stay for up to two years until they can find more permanent housing. Yes, he was told, EGH could definitely use these items. Thus started a new way to be involved!
And so it went, from one idea to the next. When the director of a local tennis center told Jack that there were many unclaimed water bottles left at the center, he decided to take the abandoned bottles home, run them through his dishwasher, and bring them to EGH. Michele, the EGH Operations Manager, told Jack, “You have no idea how valuable a water bottle is to a person on the street. People aren’t always welcome to go into stores to get a drink.”
Next, there were the sneakers at the tennis center, many pairs of sneakers, some of which had lived a long life and were turned in to be recycled. Jack took them home, put them in his washing machine, laid them out to dry and delivered somewhat worn but clean shoes to EGH. When he asked a staff member if the shoes would really be useful for anyone, he was assured that they would. One woman, he was told, had come to EGH’s Day Center the day before, in the middle of winter, barefoot. How, he wondered, could anyone survive outdoors with no shoes through the wet, cold Seattle winter? Providing shoes to someone who so desperately needed them made it clear that this was another way that he could be part of supporting those who are experiencing homelessness.
Given Jack’s ingenuity and initiative, he is often consulted when challenges arise, as he always seems to find a way to make things work out. Last year, he got a call from an EGH staff member telling him that they had lost a truck driver. He agreed to help out, asking “Drive what to where?” He is now one of the regularly scheduled drivers who picks up 1200 – 1500 pounds of food from Food Lifeline in order for EGH to provide breakfast and lunch to the women who share meals at the Day Center.
When asked why he chooses to help EGH in the many ways he does, Jack replied, “They [the staff] work efficiently and with heart. It’s hard to say no when they ask.” With skills developed over the course of a long career, Jack is ready, willing and able to use those skills to support an organization he has observed from many vantage points. He knows the value of services provided by EGH and has received the appreciation of the women who are recipients of items he has secured for them. When asked where he developed the commitment to do volunteer work, he responded, “It never occurred to me that there was any other way to behave than to help other people whenever you can.”