United Hub - Special Olympics

United Hub Special Olympics Section

News releases

Welcome day brings employees and Special Olympics athletes together

July 13, 2018

As part of the weekend's festivities, our CEO, Oscar Munoz, joined a group of employees and retirees in greeting nearly 700 arriving athletes, coaches and volunteers at Seattle's Sea-Tac International Airport (SEA), as well as hundreds more at local light rail stations, all of which were decorated with our Special Olympics superhero campaign banners.

Oscar also had the honor of giving Special Olympics athlete Nikki Jones her first in person look at her superhero alter ego Lane Lightning, a moment that was captured on the video below.

Helping SuperHeroes Fly
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Rising tide of Special Olympics lifts employee's daughter

July 10, 2018

A dark green wave rises and crests, spilling over into a froth of white foam as it picks up steam and propels Alissa DiDomenico toward the shores of Fernandina Beach, north of Jacksonville, Florida. With her arms outstretched, Alissa kneels on her surfboard, eyes focused in concentration, and shifts her weight with the momentum, settling in for the ride as the water flattens over the hot sand.

Alissa's father, United's Jacksonville International Airport General Manager Paul DiDomenico, watches from nearby as she comes to a stop. Hopping to her feet, Alissa flashes a wide grin at her dad then turns, her board under one arm, and paddles back out to do it again.

It's late June, and Alissa, 18, is in the thick of competition season as she seeks to represent Nassau County at the Special Olympics Florida State Surfing Championship in Cocoa Beach this September. If she's successful, it will be her fourth consecutive state finals appearance, where she was a gold medalist in 2016 (the contest was cancelled in 2017 because of Hurricane Irma). Paul, a native Midwesterner more comfortable in the snow than in the sand, is nevertheless a fixture at all of Alissa's events and weekend practices, joined by his wife, Marta, in the cheering section.

The water is Alissa's sanctuary, the place where she feels most at home, like "a little mermaid," Paul says. Pool therapy helped her build her strength when she was young, and by the time she began riding waves in 2014 she was already an accomplished swimmer. When Nassau County Special Olympics introduced surfing, Paul encouraged her to give it a try and Alissa was immediately hooked, drawn to the speed and grace inherent to the sport.

Alissa and her dad at one of the surf competitions.

Apart from bringing her enjoyment, swimming and surfing have also had a transformative effect on Alissa as a person, helping to draw her out of her shell. She's on the autism spectrum and has difficulties speaking, but the look on her face when she's in the water says more than words ever could. Without Special Olympics, Alissa – and countless other children – wouldn't have these kinds of experiences, which is why Paul is so glad to see United expand its partnership with the organization, which includes flying nearly 700 athletes to the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle and sponsoring the Special Olympics 50th Anniversary Celebration in Chicago.

I see it as an opportunity for her to step out and do something that's out of the ordinary, but also ordinary at the same time, because every kid plays sports, says Paul. "This is her opportunity to play and socialize."

As the morning session draws to an end, Alissa bobs in the water on her surfboard. A line of waves swell as they near the shoreline and she readies herself in a crouch. Before she can find her balance, though, her feet are swept out from under her, sending Alissa splashing into the Atlantic.

In an instant she's back on her board, waiting for the next set of waves to roll in, and with them, her next chance. Before long, she's gliding toward the beach once more, exhausted but happy, in a way that looks effortless. Competitions and medals are the farthest thing from Alissa's mind as Paul meets her with open arms, her smile matched only by his. In that moment, she's already won all there is to win.

Stronger together: A mission to make a difference

June 26, 2018

In early 2018, we announced an exciting expansion of our relationship with Special Olympics, one that will propel our mission to connect people and unite the world.

Oscar Munoz, along with Special Olympics International Chairman Tim Shriver, made the announcement during United's annual Leadership Conference, where more than 2,000 of our employees teamed up with 190 Special Olympics athletes for unified team-building activities. Side by side, they packed more than 67,000 kits that will be donated to our charitable partners, including Special Olympics.

Together we are stronger, and together we will break down barriers and work to end discrimination against people with intellectual disabilities," said Community Affairs VP Sharon Grant. "This expanded partnership can and will make a positive impact on the world and change the lives of our customers and employees wherever they live.

United is proud to partner with an organization that embodies our spirit of inclusion. As exciting as the partnership is for the company, it may be even more so for our employees, many of whom are already involved with Special Olympics. Employees like Community Affairs Senior Manager Bill Egan, whose brother is a Special Olympics Illinois athlete, and ORD Zone Control Supervisor Nancy Pelletier, who has organized teams and fundraisers for plane pull events in support of Special Olympics llinois for the past seven years. Watch the video above to learn more about their stories.

United will support two major Special Olympics events this year, the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle July 1-6, and the 50th Anniversary celebrations in Chicago July 17-21. The news is extra special for Chicago Contact Center Reservation Sales Supervisor Dawn Galea, whose husband David competed in the very first international Special Olympics Summer Games held in Chicago in 1968, where he won a gold and silver medal in track events.

From a young age, David was told he would never be a functioning adult due to his developmental disability, but he proved that prognosis wrong, consistently working since he was 16 and leading a healthy and happy life.

David never let what anyone told him stop him from pursuing his goals, said Dawn. "I couldn't be more thrilled that United is supporting a cause that's so near and dear to us and I'm looking forward to getting involved as much as I can."

Special Olympics athletes and coaches cover many miles to participate
in National and World Games

Help ensure the joy and intensity of competition by donating miles to help them get there.

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The transformative power of inclusion

June 26, 2018

As a parent of a child with disabilities, life demands a bit more patience, understanding and caregiving out of Rachel Tanaka. Rachel's 27-year-old daughter, Rell, was born with an intellectual disability, limiting her mental functioning and ability of learning life skills such as communicating, taking care of herself and socializing with peers.

The transformative power of inclusion

Fortunately, at the age of 12, Rell discovered Special Olympics and has never looked back. The organization quickly gave Rell an outlet where she could experience friendship, teamwork and build self-confidence.

As life changing as the involvement was for Rell, it was just as transformative for Rachel, who credits the organization for helping her continuously learn and grow in her parenting role.

Rell has learned life skills that are crucial to her path toward becoming independent, and that is my biggest dream for her, said Rachel. "Our involvement with Special Olympics has helped her tremendously, but it has also helped me. I need to be Rell's advocate, and Special Olympics has taught me how to speak up and get involved."

Rachel regularly volunteers at many of Rell's sporting events throughout the year and has even raised her hand to be head of delegation for Rell's softball team. Rachel will also be supporting Rell during the Special Olympics USA Games happening in Seattle July 1-6, in which Rell's soccer team will participate in for the first time representing Special Olympics Hawaii. One of the most joyful experiences of Rachel's involvement has been seeing her daughter grow into a confident young woman.

Rell playing soccer for Special Olympics

It's amazing what such programs can do for these athletes, said Rachel. "They are taught respect, sportsmanship, leadership, independence and many other capabilities that completely transform the lives of families."

Rachel, who is a coordinator for United Airlines' maintenance business operations in Honolulu, was one of the first employees to learn about the airline's expanded relationship with Special Olympics International. United made the announcement in March and has joined Special Olympics in its global movement to end discrimination against people with intellectual disabilities, and together, they aim to achieve a shared vision of inclusion for all.

With this partnership, United is helping to support major Special Olympics events in 2018, including the Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle July 1-6, and the 50th anniversary celebrations July 17-21 in Chicago, the site of the very first International Special Olympics Summer Games in 1968.

As an employee, I'm proud to work for a company that supports organizations making a true impact on this world, and as a parent of a child with disabilities, I am grateful, said Rachel. "Above all, I hope we all work toward eliminating the stigma facing people with intellectual disabilities. If we allow our walls to come down and let people in, we can touch the hearts of many."

United and Special Olympics

June 26, 2018

United's shared purpose is to connect people and unite the world - and no organization better embodies that principle than Special Olympics. Their mission to embrace differences and end discrimination against people with intellectual disabilities to create a fully inclusive world remains as important today as it was when the movement was founded in 1968.

United has a long history with Special Olympics, beginning with United's Charity Miles program and continuing with employees supporting the spirit of inclusion in their local communities by volunteering and fundraising for local plane pulls.

Special Olympics serves over 5 million athletes in more than 170 countries. With the support of more than 1 million coaches and volunteers, Special Olympics delivers over 108,000 games and competitions throughout the year. Adding to employee volunteer and fundraising opportunities, our newly expanded partnership includes support of Special Olympics 50th Anniversary celebration in Chicago and the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle.

The revolution is inclusion. Working to break down barriers and achieve full inclusion begins with treating all people with dignity and respect. With Special Olympics input, we have built employee training modules that include real-life scenarios for serving our customers with intellectual disabilities. More changes to training will be introduced to employees across the company and will be fully rolled out by the end of 2018.

United & Special Olympics: Taking inclusion to new heights

March 08, 2018

On March 8, 2018, we announced a new global relationship with Special Olympics, an organization we've partnered with for many years focusing on supporting the spirit of inclusion with our employees through local communities and through our Charity Miles Program. United's increased sponsorship includes support for major Special Olympics events, including the Special Olympics 50th Anniversary celebrations in Chicago, site of the very first International Special Olympics Summer Games in 1968, and the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle.

In addition, United will engage with local Programs in our key markets around the world. Special Olympics embodies our shared purpose to connect people and unite the world. With more than 5 million athletes and 1 million coaches and volunteers in 172 countries, our employees and customers will join forces with Special Olympics to achieve our shared vision of inclusion. Together, we hope to end discrimination against people with intellectual disabilities.

Special Olympic athletes pictured with a United employee

Our relationship with Special Olympics represents a continued effort to break down barriers and further build on the organization's remarkable legacy by engaging our customers and employees around the world. Working together, we created new training that specifically reflects insights from Special Olympics, including training scenarios with real-life situations that individuals with intellectual disabilities face when traveling. By the end of 2018, more than 60,000 United frontline employees will have participated in the new training modules that reflect Special Olympics insights as United takes steps to deliver a world full of inclusion.

Check back this summer for coverage from Special Olympics 50th Anniversary celebrations in Chicago and 2018 Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle.

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