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Kym Jackson learns lesson from grandmother: Pay it forward

American Airlines employee earns company award and $10,000, then donates money to program that helped her sister build a new life.

Kym Jackson, Flight Services Manager, American Airlines

American Airlines employee Kym Jackson is a believer in the karma of giving.

“If you don’t give back, then you never get,” says Jackson, “and you stay in that same little spot — you never escalate to where you want to be.”

In April, Jackson, a Charlotte-based flight services manager, earned the coveted Chairman’s Award, which included a $10,000 bonus.

And what did she do with the money? She gave it way.

The Gastonia resident says she learned the importance of giving from her grandmother, Ida Whitfield, whose mother died in childbirth. Whitfield, an only child, was raised by family members, and “they instilled in her to always give back and she instilled that in my mother” and me, Jackson said.

“You always have to give back, Kym, because if you give back, then it comes back to you double,” Jackson recalls her grandmother telling her.

Jackson, now herself a grandmother of five, two of whom she’s raising, donated her bonus money to “A New Way of Life,” an organization that helped one of her half-sisters find a new life after 17 years in prison.

Her sister killed a man who had “molested her from age two to adulthood,” said Jackson. After serving her sentence, she was paroled to the Los Angeles nonprofit and quickly set about creating a new life for herself. She was soon hired on and now helps run theorganization. Jackson’s donation was also a way to support her sister.

Family is important to Jackson. She’s the type who remembers to call on birthdays and always likes “to be up under people,” she says. She has two adult sons, Jason English and Staff Sergeant Dontre’ Robinson, a sister and brother, and three half-sisters and one half-brother. She is raising the two children of her daughter, Nikeyia Robinson, who passed away from a brain aneurysm at the age of 24.

Jay’A Thomas, 9, suffers from brain tumors and had a portion of her brain removed along with a previous tumor that fused to the hypothalamus and the pituitary. She will have another tumor removed once it grows large enough. Jay’A takes a number of medications, including growth hormones, and also suffers from diabetes and thyroid problems. Eight-year-old Kam’Ron Thomas recently had surgery to reshape a portion of his skull.

She’s been asked, “Why give away that money when you are raising grandkids — both of whom have serious medical issues?”

“I hear that a whole lot,” Jackson says, but “my grandchildren really don’t want for anything; they have a lot. I work every day, so that paycheck, I buy out of that, and if somebody else can be rewarded with some of the things that I have, then I’m more than happy to give it to them.”

Jackson’s generosity and her calm approach to dealing with airline customers — and the medical conditions of her grandchildren — no doubt deserve special recognition, but she is uncomfortable with the spotlight.

She’s shared her story a few times, including in a WCNC-TV report, but admitted in the August issue of American’s in-flight magazine that she does so only to highlight the good works her colleagues do every day.

“I don’t like the spotlight; in fact, I had to be talked into writing this column,” she wrote. “But I agreed because the inherent good and kindness my colleagues demonstrate needs to be shared.”

Jackson was nominated for the Chairman’s Award for two such acts of kindness, acts that she describes as “just doing my job”:

• On a midnight shift, Jackson rebooked a busload of passengers — even staying overnight with an unaccompanied minor who couldn’t fly out until morning.

• Jackson answered the distraught call of another American Airlines employee seeking a flight to Philadelphia to escape an abusive husband. She sheltered, clothed and fed the woman and her 11-year-old son overnight until she could get help for them.

Nominator Dalia Ballester, managing director of customer care, said of that call: “Kym Jackson didn’t hesitate to act. She went out of her way to lend a helping hand to a fellow employee and her son who were in dire need of safe shelter, basic needs and someone to show them they were not alone.”

Customer Service Manager Pamela Stoddard, another nominator, said, “Kym often goes above and beyond to assist customers. …Whenever you’re in a bind, she is the person that always steps forward and says, ‘Hey, how can I help?’ ”

Jackson has worked in the airline industry for 20 years, the past five with American. She’s a multi-tasker who believes in learning as much as she can about servicing customers. In fact, the night she re-booked the busload of passengers, the ticket counter was closed and Jackson was on duty in the baggage office. In her new role, she will be working with flight attendants and managing inbound flight issues and emergencies, among other duties.

“At the airline, you can get pulled from one end to the other, and it’s good to know multiple skills so you can help out,” Jackson says. “I like everything about the airline business. And when you have good leadership, then you tend to love your job that much more.”

And that love appears to be coming back more than double to Jackson.

In an American Airlines video celebrating the award-winners, Ballester had this message for Jackson: “Kym, if I had the opportunity, I would clone you. I would clone you a thousand times and that would make Charlotte an even more amazing place than it already is.”

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