23-year-old David Flores learned to swim at the Lawrence YMCA when he was 5 years old. His instructor was Claudia Soo Hoo, who is now the Y’s Chief Operating Officer.
“Sometimes when you stay at an organization for a length of time, you get to witness the long-term impact of the work the Y does. Seeing David teaching swim lessons at the Andover/North Andover YMCA brought this story full circle for me. As the aquatics director at the Lawrence Y in the mid-2000s, I taught David swimming lessons every Friday night. What started out with some hesitancy, quickly turned into joy. David learned to swim and be safe around water. David is now giving back and instilling that same joy he had as a young child, while teaching children an important life skill!” says Claudia.
Today, David, who is on the autism spectrum, is an assistant swim instructor at the Andover/North Andover Branch. “It takes a lot to be a swimming instructor, to be cheerful and not too strict at the same time,” David said. He teaches four hours a week at the Y. “People are nice and chatty, and cheerful at the Y. The kids and staff treat me good. Everybody treats me good. I feel like a big brother to the kids I teach,” he said.
In addition to his Y work, David works at Victor in Andover doing socket assembly and volunteers with the Methuen Karate Association. David earned his black belt last December. He is also an accomplished Special Olympics swimmer and has dozens of medals from competitions from his time on the Haverhill Stars Special Olympics team. For eight years he competed in butterfly, breaststroke, backstroke, relay and freestyle.
His mom shared: “David used to not be able to be around people. He didn’t have patience to be around kids. Now he works with them and takes care of them. If you try you can do it! I’m more proud of David than I’ve ever been. He’s a confident and positive teacher. I feel very happy that he teaches. This was his first job. I used to come and watch him. I feel good. I feel proud to see my son can do something he learned, and now he can teach. He’s feeling very happy to come to work. If he has to take the day off, he worries about it. He’s very responsible.”
A 2018 graduate of Greater Lawrence Technical School, David is now taking courses at Northern Essex Community College, with a goal of earning a Liberal Arts degree. “I’m really pleased that my son is a part of the Y and was given this opportunity. He is showing that people with disabilities have a lot to offer and nothing is impossible. The YMCA gives these opportunities. It’s a big, big help for them (the Y) and for him,” Sheila said.