Elise Jackson brings her dedication to United and the March of Dimes
Author Rachel Ayres
Elise Jackson is passionate about the March of Dimes, and it’s easy to understand why. Her son, Elijah, had an extraordinary start to his life; he was born premature at 25 weeks, and at the time he weighed just over a pound. Elijah spent the first seven months of his life in the neonatal intensive care unit, undergoing multiple surgeries. Elise and her husband, Todd, credit the work of the March of Dimes for helping fund the medical advances that saved their son’s life.
This year, Elijah is the 2015 March of Dimes National Ambassador, so he, Elise and Todd are currently traveling around the country on United raising money for the organization they love. The Jacksons started volunteering with March of Dimes in 2005 and have raised a total of $30,000.
United has been the official airline of the March of Dimes National Ambassador Program for the last 10 years, flying families like the Jacksons nearly 1 million miles. It’s a partnership Elise is especially proud of because of her history with United; her career with the company has spanned almost 26 years.
“Everyone’s response has been amazing,” Elise says of companywide fundraising efforts. “My co-workers are great; they are really like part of my family.” Elise took a leave of absence for almost a year after Elijah’s birth, and she says she was touched when her United family welcomed her back at work “with open arms.”
Her co-workers at Willis Tower, in downtown Chicago, have become used to seeing Elise at fundraising events within the company, as well as at national March of Dimes events. She shows up with a huge smile on her face, ready to thank everyone who is supporting the cause that’s so close to her heart. Elise also brings a small doll that she holds in one hand. “This is about how big Elijah was when he was born. He weighed just over a pound and could fit in our hands,” she explains. “It’s surprising to a lot of people when they see that perspective.”
Elijah, now 12 years old, is also there, embracing his new role as ambassador. He enthusiastically says, “Let’s go raise some money,” to which the crowds respond with loud clapping and cheers.
Elise admits she never expected to see her first job at United stretch into multiple decades, but she quickly became captivated by the industry. She started as a reservations agent and has held a variety of positions since. At Dane County Regional Airport in Madison, Wisconsin, she worked in customer service, on the ramp loading baggage, checking the weight and balance before takeoff and guiding the planes during push-back.
“It was really exciting,” Elise says. “One day a customer approached me in the baggage claim area. He saw me guide the plane in, pull up the jet bridge, then start unloading the bags. He said, ‘Is this a one-woman airline?’ I told him it’s all teamwork. That’s what I love about it.” Elise also worked at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport before taking a position at headquarters, where she currently works as a quality analyst, making sure technology is running smoothly for the reservations agents who work in United call centers and at home.
One of the most rewarding parts of Elise’s career has been sharing her love of travel with Elijah, who is just starting to explore his interest in engineering. “He loves going to sit in the cockpits; he really loves the Dreamliner,” Elise says. “We’ll be sitting at home looking at the routes. If there are open seats on the planes, I’ll say, ‘Why don’t we go to the airport and take a day trip and come back?’ He gets so excited and runs to tell his dad. He loves traveling.”
As the Ambassador Family, the Jacksons have attended March of Dimes events in many cities, including New York, Boston, Phoenix, San Francisco, Denver, Cleveland, Detroit and Houston, with many more to come.
“Being able to take my son to see the world, it’s just an awesome feeling,” Elise says.