Music for Life: The Sound of Aloha - United Hub
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Watch now: The sound of aloha

By Matt Adams, June 30, 2017

Standing inside Play4M.E.'s storefront at Honolulu's Ala Moana Center, it's hard not to notice a common tendency in the passersby: a quick glance through the window followed by a double-take and, inevitably, a smile. A room filled floor-to-ceiling with bright blue, red, green and yellow `ukuleles can have that effect on people.

Unlike its trendy neighbors in the open-air mall, Play4M.E. (short for Play for Music Education) isn't a retail outlet. That is most evident by the signs beneath the rows of `ukuleles reading PLEASE TOUCH. Instead, it's a place where anyone, regardless of skill level, can experience the joy of making music free of charge. Which is exactly what San Francisco-based Flight Attendant Leo Daquioag had in mind when he opened the place in February under the umbrella of his non-profit Music for Life Foundation.

Raised in Honolulu, Leo created Music for Life six years ago as a way to use his free time to benefit the community that has meant so much to him. "I have a lot of downtime between trips," he says, "so I was looking for ways to stay busy. I started thinking about what I have to offer and how I could give back."

A lifelong musician (for what it's worth, back in high school, his rock group the Descendants won a Honolulu "Battle of Bands"), Leo had a pretty good idea of the direction he should go. "Music has always been in my life, so I figured I could use that passion to help others."

He began by recruiting area musicians to play fundraising events, like the one that he helped organize after the 2011 Fukushima earthquake in Japan, and worked with news outlets, educators and local residents to hold instrument donation drives in support of scholastic music programs. That's when he stumbled upon a find that has helped take his mission in a new direction.

United Airlines, San Francisco-based Flight Attendant Leo Daquioag

Last year, Leo was contacted by a local teacher who mentioned having a stockpile of unused `ukuleles at her elementary school. He soon discovered a similar trove on many campuses around Oahu. "Decades ago, the State of Hawaii put them in all of our public schools," he says. "Kids who grew up on the mainland learned to play the recorder and we learned to play the `ukulele. But when funding for music and arts programs was cut, they were put away in storage. The schools had all of these instruments, but they were in disrepair because they hadn't been played for years."

In a serendipitous twist, those same instruments had been made by Kamaka Ukulele, which is owned by the family of one of Leo's close friends, Chris Kamaka. Leo asked Chris for help refurbishing the `ukuleles, and another of his pals, ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro, volunteered to personally repair 100 of them while on tour. Together, they were committed to getting the instruments into the hands of students who might not otherwise have the opportunity to play.

At the same time, Mike Upton, owner of Kala Ukulele in Petaluma, California, found out about Leo's work and donated more than 2,000 of their beginner models for the project. Before long, Leo had enough to outfit the Play4M.E. center in addition to several schools.

"Music identifies a culture," he says. "When kids don't get the chance to participate in that, we lose some of our humanity. The next generation of doctors and scientists need to exercise the creative side of their brains, too."

On most afternoons and weekends the Play4M.E. space is awash with sound, as kids of all ages, oftentimes accompanied by their parents, learn to play the instrument that holds such a revered place in Hawaii. In his first brick-and-mortar endeavor, Leo has gone to great lengths to foster a creative, welcoming environment in which to bring music to the masses. In May, the center even hosted its "`Ukulebrity Series," with workshops by several well-known musicians, including Kalei Gamiao, Benny Chong and Taimane Gardner.

"In Hawaii we have this word, pono," Leo says. "Pono can mean showing love, showing aloha and showing support for the community because you love it. I like that word. With the Music for Life Foundation, we want to be vehicles for musicians, organizations and for other non-profits to show pono."

Shaping an inclusive future with Special Olympics

By The Hub team, July 24, 2020

If your travels have taken you through Chicago O'Hare International Airport anytime since October 2019, you may have had a friendly, caring and jovial exchange with Daniel Smrokowski. Daniel is one of four Service Ambassadors thanks to our ongoing partnership with Special Olympics. This inaugural ambassador program aims to provide Special Olympic athletes employment opportunities within our operation, affording them a unique and meaningful career.

Since 2018, our partnership with Special Olympics has become one of United's most cherished relationships, going beyond the events we take part in and volunteer with. While the plane pull competitions, polar plunges, duck derbies and Special Olympics World Games and other events around the world are a big part of our involvement, the heart of this partnership lies with the athletes and individuals supported by Special Olympics. To advocate for their inclusion in every setting is one of our biggest honors, and we take great pride in the role we play in the organization's inclusion revolution.

Aiding in the success of Special Olympics' mission to create continuing opportunities for individuals with intellectual disabilities, throughout the two-year partnership, United has volunteered over 10,500 hours and donated over $1.2 million in travel to the organization. The impact of this partnership is felt at every level, both at Special Olympics and within our own ranks.

"The Inclusion Revolution campaign, led by our athletes, aims to end discrimination against people with intellectual disabilities. United Airlines has joined in our fight for inclusion, empowering our athletes with the skills needed to succeed and opportunities to contribute their abilities as leaders," said Special Olympics International Chairman Tim Shriver. "United Airlines believes that people with intellectual disabilities should be perceived as they really are: independent, world-class athletes, students, employees, neighbors, travelers, and leaders who contribute to make this world a better place."

Our Service Ambassador program is just one of the many ways Special Olympics has impacted not only our employees, but also our customers. "I see every day how our Service Ambassadors connect with our customers the moment they walk into the airport lobby," said Senior Customer Service Supervisor Steve Suchorabski. "They provide a warm, welcoming smile ad assist in any way they can. To see these young adults hold positions that a society once told them they couldn't is truly the most heartwarming part of my job," Steve continued.

"The opportunity to be a part of the United family means everything to me," Daniel said. "I feel so much pride showing up to work in a Special Olympics/United co-branded uniform, working among such a loving and supportive community. The relationship between these two organizations is truly helping to shape my future while letting me use my gifts of communicating and helping others. Hopefully, I can spend my entire career at United," Daniel added.

In honor of Special Olympics' Global Week of Inclusion in July, we're asking our employees, customers and partners to sign a pledge to #ChooseToInclude at jointherevolution.org/pledge.

And be sure to check out Daniel's podcast The Special Chronicles.

United works with partners to send food to USDA food bank

By The Hub team, July 23, 2020

In collaboration with food-logistics company Commodity Forwarders Inc. (CFI), United moved nearly 190,000 pounds of fresh produce to Guam for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Coronavirus Farm Assistance Program. This new program was created to provide critical support to consumers impacted by the COVID-19 global pandemic.

A variety of fresh fruits were transported from Los Angeles (LAX) to Guam (GUM) on United's newly introduced, non-stop cargo-only flight – a route added to meet cargo demand during the COVID-19 crisis. The fresh food was repacked in 10-pound cases in Los Angeles, prepared for departure at CFI's LAX location, and flown to GUM by the United team. Through this beneficial partnership between United and CFI, the perishable goods were kept cool during every step of the process and distributed as part of the food bank program in Guam.

"Everyone on our team has worked relentlessly during the pandemic to get critical goods to where they are needed most. Establishing a comprehensive network of cargo-only flights have allowed us to keep the supply chain moving even while passenger flight capacity has been reduced," said Regional Senior Manager of Cargo Sales, Marco Vezjak. "Knowing that we are able to help during these difficult times – in this case the Guam community – is our biggest reward and greatest motivation to keep moving forward."

United is proud to play a role in maintaining the global food supply chain and helping people access the supplies they need. Since March 19, United has operated over 4,000 cargo-only flights, moving over 130 million pounds of cargo.

Jessica Kimbrough named Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer

By The Hub team, July 10, 2020

Jessica Kimbrough, currently Labor Relations and Legal Strategy Managing Director, will take on the new role of Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer Managing Director.

Jessica assumes this new and expanded position to focus on global inclusion and equity as part of our enhanced commitment to ensure best practices across the business to strengthen our culture.

In this role, Jessica will be responsible for helping United redefine our efforts on diversity, equity and inclusion – ensuring that our programs and approach are strategic, integrated and outcome-oriented, while we continue to build a culture that reflects our core values. She will report to Human Resources and Labor Relations EVP Kate Gebo.

"Jessica's appointment to this role is another critical step our executive team is taking to ensure diversity, equity and inclusion remains a top priority at United," said CEO Scott Kirby. "Given her drive, experience and commitment to champion collaboration and allyship among our employee business resource groups, she is uniquely qualified to take on this position and I look forward to working closely with her."

As Labor Relations and Legal Strategy Managing Director, Jessica worked closely with senior management to create and maintain positive labor relations among our unionized workforce, providing counsel on labor litigation, negotiations, contract administration, organizing issues and managing attorneys who represent United in labor relations. Previously, she served as Labor and Employment Counsel in our legal department.

Jessica has a passion for creating a pipeline of diverse lawyers and leaders, and was honored as one of Chicago Defender's "Women of Excellence" for excellence in her career and civic engagement in 2017. She currently serves as President of uIMPACT, our women's employee business resource group.

Jessica's new role is effective immediately.

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