BURLINGTON, N.J. (AP) — When Todd Irwin took the field at Lincoln Financial Field, he wasn’t quite ready to suit up in Eagles green, but he had earned the honor of quarterback.
Irwin, of Burlington Township, was there to accept his recognition as Santander Community Quarterback, along with nine others from the Delaware Valley. For three years now, Santander Bank and the Philadelphia Eagles have recognized a group of individuals for doing positive work in the community.
Irwin was honored for his work for Angel Flight East, a nonprofit organization that provides free air transportation to people who need to travel to access medical care.
He served two years as a board member, two more as board vice president and two more as board president.
In leadership positions, Irwin was responsible for playing quarterback. He had to organize his team to execute its goal: Getting people with cancer and other illnesses to distant hospitals for treatment.
Santander and the Eagles honored Irwin and the other nine finalists before Philadelphia’s Nov. 3 home game against the Chicago Bears. During a pregame ceremony on the turf at Lincoln Financial Field, Santander executive Julie Vetack and former Eagles player Vince Papale presented Irwin and the other honorees with footballs signifying their accomplishment.
Then they got to enjoy a VIP experience during the Eagles’ 22-14 victory, watching the game from the Santander Field Club located behind one of the end zones.
“It was a pretty awesome experience,” Irwin said.
“The ‘Santander Community Quarterback’ program is the perfect opportunity for us to show respect to individuals who are change makers in greater Philadelphia,” said Os Rana, the senior vice president of brand, media and creative integration at Santander Bank.
“Todd has touched the lives of so many through his work with Angel Flight East,” she added.
Irwin was not always a community quarterback. Back in 2013, he was just a regular guy with a day job as an executive director of financial and supply chain systems for Comcast in Philadelphia.
But he wanted to do more to help the world around him, so he enrolled in a year-long program called Leadership Philadelphia, which is designed to “enhance civic awareness,” Irwin said.
During his year in the program, Irwin figured out that he wanted to serve on a nonprofit board in his spare time. Around the same time, “my wife made the mistake of getting me an introductory flying lesson,” Irwin said.
He was hooked, and he ended up getting a private pilot’s license and an instrument rating from the Federal Aviation Administration. The license and rating allowed Irwin to file flight plans, fly through clouds and do everything else pilots need to do on the job.
After he got his license, and near the end of his Leadership Philadelphia training, Irwin attended a leadership fair organized by the program.
Angel Flight East, which was founded in 1992, was there. Irwin walked up to the table. It was a match made in heaven, or at least the sky.
“It was a good blend of wanting to be a pilot and wanting to do something for the community,” Irwin said.
The Burlington Township native has mostly organized flights during his six years with Angel Flight East, but he has flown some missions as well. Yet whether he’s organizing or flying, Irwin’s experience as a pilot helps him quarterback flights that require private pilots, airplanes and airlines.
“We’ll pick up a passenger from wherever,” he said.
Angel Flight East has between 140 and 150 unique passengers every year. It flew 950 missions in 2018 alone. It has saved between 1,500 and 2,000 lives in its 27 years of existence.
Irwin remembers a lot of those he has helped.
There was the story of Chris Potter, a husband, father of three and Lancaster, Pennsylvania, resident with leukemia. His body was not responding to chemotherapy, so Irwin and AFE flew him to Boston between 40 and 50 times for a lifesaving bone marrow transplant and ensuing treatments.
Then there was the story of Brayden, a Greenville, South Carolina. native who had retinoblastoma at just a couple weeks old. Irwin and AFE initially flew Brayden and his mother, Sabra, to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia when Brayden was only 10 weeks old. Brayden just turned 10 years old, and after years of treatments, he’s cancer free.
“It really gives you a good feeling,” Irwin said of his work with AFE.
Irwin’s tenure as president concluded at the end of September, since the organization requires board members to step away for a year after serving two terms. But he plans on continuing his work with the nonprofit, through serving on executive committees and, of course, continuing to fly missions.
“I’ll still be involved,” he said.
Information from: Burlington County Times (Willingboro, N.J.), http://www.burlingtoncountytimes.com