COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: Shawn Slevin founded the Swim Strong Foundation in 2009. Slevin and her team of about 55 volunteers provide water safety and swim programs to nearly 2,000 people throughout Queens and parts of Brooklyn. Being a nonprofit, Slevin also works on connecting with local businesses to acquire funding, and she also looks to partner with different health care companies who occasionally come to any of the foundation’s four locations to give talks about the importance of good nutrition and great exercise, which ultimately can fend off diabetes and obesity.
PERSONAL BACKGROUND: A New York City native, Slevin was born in Manhattan and raised in Woodside. She attended the Mary Lewis Academy and Baruch College, and swam for a time at both institutions. Before starting the Swim Strong Foundation, Slevin coached for 40 years at St. Sebastian’s in Woodside, and is grateful to have had the “over 8,000 children that she has had the fortune of working with.” Slevin credits her strong work ethic to her family, and said she thinks that “we all stand on the shoulders of those who came before us.”
FAVORITE MEMORY: Instead of pinpointing one specific moment that trumps the others, Slevin believes that her entire experience with the foundation was and will continue to be eternally rewarding. “To be able to do this work is incredible,” said Slevin. “To be so fortunate to have found your advocacy in life and be able to embrace it and change not only your life, but others that you work with – that’s powerful.”
INSPIRATION: Slevin was initially inspired to begin her foundation because of the students she coached in her early years. Many of them kept in touch with their former coach, and would tell Slevin that the work they all did together really set them on the right path for success in their future. The swimming routine helped them apply discipline to other areas of their lives, such as schoolwork and overall focus, and Slevin wanted to take that to a broader scale. “It’s not about what we do in the pool, it’s about how we live our lives,” said Slevin. “It’s about helping people first and foremost; helping them get the skills and the confidence to protect themselves and be strong in the water, and how do they take that into other aspects of their lives.”
BIGGEST CHALLENGE: As a nonprofit, the Swim Strong Foundation doesn’t have a budget to go out and advertise, so it relies primarily on word of mouth. Slevin said that the biggest challenge for her is figuring out how to get to the next level – ultimately, she hopes to be able to spread outside of Queens and Brooklyn.
- Star of Queens: Dolores Orr, Community Board 14 Chair
- Star of Queens: Jack Fried, president, 111th Precinct Community Council
- Star of Queens: Kevin Alexander, executive director, Rockaway Development and Revitalization Corporation