Employees of Southwest Airlines are encouraged to “Live the Southwest Way.” This includes having a Warrior Spirit (work hard, desire to be the best, be courageous), a Servant’s Heart (put others first, live by The Golden Rule), and a Fun-LUVing Attitude (be a passionate Teamplayer, have fun). It was only fitting that Southwest partnered with Stephen Jackson of the Golden State Warriors on a community service project because Stephen lives the Southwest Way on and off the court. Southwest Airlines is the Official Airline of the NBA and more specifically, the Official Airline of the Golden State Warriors. As part of our partnership, Southwest had the opportunity to work on a community service project with the Warriors. This project became an essay contest hosted by Stephen Jackson, a forward for the Warriors. A third grade class from Dick Dowling Elementary School in Port Arthur, Texas was chosen to write essays about the thing they like most about Port Arthur and why they want to visit California. If you haven’t guessed by now, Port Arthur is Stephen Jackson’s hometown. Stephen helped select ten students to fly out to California to see him play the Seattle Supersonics on February 26. I flew to Houston on Monday, February 25, to meet the students and their chaperones for their flight. Kim Domerofski and Tiffany Tesinski from our Houston Marketing office helped make this a memorable experience by decorating the gate that we departed from and providing the students with a goodie bag for their flight. When I arrived at the Houston airport on Monday morning around 9:00 a.m., there was a thick layer of fog that prevented flights from taking off or arriving. The flight information screens were showing two-hour delays for flights from earlier in the morning, yet our flight was still scheduled to depart ontime. All that was running through my head at that point was, “Why today?!” and “What am I going to do with ten third grade students for two hours at an airport?” We kept checking the flight information screens, and they continued to show an ontime departure time. Mother Nature was on our side on that morning because our flight departed ontime! For many of the students, this was the first flight of their lifetime. As we backed away from the gate, I could hear the excited chatter from the students. We taxied for a bit, and then we were cleared for takeoff. As we accelerated down the runway and then began our ascent, the laugher and excitement coming from the students made it sound like we were on a rollercoaster instead of an airplane! I turned around to look at the students and the Passengers around them also had smiles on their faces! While we were mid-flight, I got up and announced to everyone on board the significance of the specialty aircraft they were flying on that day, Slam Dunk One. I also recognized the students for their accomplishment, and the whole cabin gave the students a round of applause! When we arrived in Oakland, Stephen helped one of our Ramp agents marshal in the aircraft to the gate. The students were not aware that Stephen was at the airport to greet them, and I was disappointed that we could not see Stephen guiding the plane into the gate with the orange batons! We told the students that there was a surprise waiting for them at the top of the jetbridge. Not only was Stephen waiting for them with open arms but also local media with their cameras! It was quite a sight to see Stephen leading the students, Thunder (Warriors mascot), and the media through Terminal 2 of the Oakland Airport. On Wednesday, the students spent the day at the San Francisco’s Aquarium of the Bay and then it was back to Oakland for the Warriors’ game versus the Seattle Supersonics. Prior to the game, Stephen met with the students from Port Arthur along with a group of third graders from a local elementary school. Local media along with NBA-TV was there to get footage of the event and to interview some of the students. As a surprise for me, each of the students created a thank you card and presented it to me prior to the game. I was so touched by their effort and gratitude! The finishing touch on the day was the on-court presentation during halftime. The students were met at center court by Stephen and were recognized for their accomplishment in front of the arena full of Warriors fans! This was quite the experience for me, so I can only imagine how amazing this was to the group of students from Port Arthur! I would like to thank Stephen Jackson and the Golden State Warriors for being great partners! I would also like to thank Tiffany Tesinski and Kim Domerofski in Houston, Cliff Williams Assistant Station Manager in Oakland, the Port of Oakland, the TSA in Oakland, and the Southwest Airlines Marketing office in Oakland for helping make this event a success!
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