This is huge. From our newest airport, you can hop a train to Penn Station, and faster than a "Friends" rerun, you’re in the heart of New York City: home of the Yankees and the Mets, Broadway, and 5th Avenue. Land of 20,000 restaurants. The place never sleeps. What’s not to love?
On the first Southwest Airlines plane to land in Newark, I was sitting beside Bob D., Dallas Assistant Chief Pilot. As we flew over New Jersey, his home state, Bob pointed out the airport where he learned to fly. His eyes danced as we approached the runway, with New York City in clear view to our right. "If you told me that Southwest Airlines would ever be flying into Newark,” he said, “I would have called you crazy." His mom met us at the gate with huge smiles and hugs, thrilled to have her son home.
While in New Jersey, I was able to take part in Southwest's Share the Spirit event at South 17th Street School, located just minutes from Newark Liberty International Airport.
For this project, Southwest partnered with Jersey Cares, an organization that connects Volunteers to Community needs throughout the state. I headed into New Jersey with a small but mighty group of Southwest Warriors. Brian Dean, Executive Director of Jersey Cares, welcomed us to the school with open arms. We all felt like kids again, eating lunch in a school auditorium while huge cut-outs of Alvin and the Chipmunks loomed on stage. During lunch, the community outreach coordinator of South 17th Street School explained the tasks of the day.
One group braved the cold to beautify the school’s front entrance. Another group decorated and stuffed environmental goody bags for the students. The third group—my group—painted a mural in one of the hallways.
As Southwest Employees, we are encouraged to "color outside of the lines,” so we knew that filling in the floor-to-ceiling sketch might be tricky for our group. But we grabbed paint cans, rolled up our sleeves, and got to work.
The hours flew by. We danced to Justin Bieber and mixed paints like pros. John J., who is part of our Graphic Design and Creative Services department, worked harder than anyone, making the rest of us look good with his touch-up skills. It felt so good to see it all come together. Halfway through the afternoon, when paint fumes were making us a bit loopy, a Newark Cargo Employee dropped by to surprise the entire group with warm pretzels and delicious mango ices. Gotta love that Southwest Spirit!
For an afternoon, the work being done at that little school in New Jersey paled those bright Broadway lights. Of course, I was covered in paint by the end – but with lots of arms pitching in to finish up, we brought that mural to life. The goody bags looked great too, and the outside clean-up crew did an amazing job. After they finished gathering trash and planting pansies, the front of the school looked like it had undergone a complete transformation.
Before leaving the school, we stopped to take group pictures in the courtyard. A huge map of America was painted on the concrete, and we marked every single SWA city with chalk, including Newark—number 72. It was a great time to reflect on just how far we’ve come.
These types of things are what Southwest is about. Connecting people. Uniting families. Facilitating community. For an afternoon, we were able to share some Southwest love with our newest city. And if we had to get a little paint under our nails in the process, it was absolutely worth it. New Jersey, welcome to the Southwest Family.
This blog post is part of a week-long series on volunteerism at Southwest Airlines in honor of National Volunteer Week. On Monday, April 13, 2011, Southwest launched 40 Hours for 40 Years,an Employee Volunteer pledge campaign that challenges its 35,000 Employees to pledge and record 40 volunteer hours in honor of our 40years of service. For every 40 hours volunteered at a nonprofit by an Employee or group of Employees, Southwest Airlines will donate a complimentary, roundtrip ticket to that organization through its ongoing Tickets for Time program. For more information on ways that Southwest gives back to the communities it serves, please visit www.southwest.com/citizenship.