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Behind the Wings: How aviation fueled my husband’s legacy through volunteer work

 I realized I had to finish this project my husband and I started of volunteering to honor his memory,” shared Antoinette Charles-Aqui, DCA Customer Service Gate Agent. “Having the support from my colleagues and leaders at Piedmont Airlines helped me during the loss of my husband.”

“My friend, Claudia worked for Piedmont, and is now retired, encouraged me to join because my husband and I loved to travel,” shared Antoinette. “She tried to get me to join in 2012 but I didn’t take her advice until 2016 and I’m glad I did!” Coming from a background in customer service, Antoinette knew it was the perfect mesh. “I became Piedmont Proud in 2016 as a part time Customer Service Gate Agent based in Washington, DC (DCA)”. Antoinette had no idea she would find her husband, Keith, while living in DC. The couple had more in common than they realized.

“My husband and I are both from Trinidad and Tobago,” shared Antoinette. Living in Trinidad piqued her interest to learn more about foreign countries. “I love my home country, but I have lived in the US for almost 47 years,” she reflects. “Piedmont opened the door for my two passions to thrive, photography and traveling. The airline allowed me to explore the world and take photos of new places and people through the gift of travel.”

“Being from the islands and visiting foreign countries opened my eyes to how many people are exposed to poverty,” shared Antoinette. “If you have the means, time and resources, you should consider helping someone else.” In 2014, Antoinette visited a school in Cape Coast Ghana for seven weeks with 13 college students in a small village called Kakum Village. “This experience propelled me in my volunteerism. Working for Piedmont has given me the opportunity to serve in foreign countries like Haiti, Trinidad and Tobago and South Africa.”

Antoinette and her late husband Keith have a 37-year-old son named Jason who is equally passionate about volunteer work. “Keith was an Attorney with a passion for education,” shared Antoinette. The couple started doing volunteer work in South Africa after taking a group vacation with three other couples. “We went to Zimbabwe and Botswana for a vacation of a lifetime. We went for two weeks and dedicated one full day to community service visiting various schools outside of Cape Town.” They collectively provided school supplies while spending time with the children and teachers. “We didn’t go with the intention of starting a nonprofit, once we returned, we all agreed that we needed to do more,” shared Antoinette. The children in South Africa tugged on their heart strings birthing a nonprofit organization called “Project YES Africa” based in Washington, DC.

“My husband took care of all the paperwork and documentation to get us up and running,” shared Antoinette. The dream of building a school in Khayelitsha became a reality. Unfortunately, in 2016, Keith passed away suddenly before seeing this dream come true. “The Piedmont family embraced me and really took me under their wing,” Antoinette recalls. “Traveling helped me during my healing journey after losing my husband. I realized I had to finish this journey that we started together for him, to represent both of us.” The outpouring of support from Piedmont, other organizations and friends helped Project YES Africa fulfill its mission. “In 2022, we were recognized by the National Football League during their “My Cause My Cleats” campaign to be selected for a donation from an Atlanta Falcons player.

In 2023, Project YES Africa successfully completed construction for the school in South Africa for the Nokwanda Educare Centre. “Piedmont has allowed the space and opportunity for me to attend the grand opening of the school that recently took place on April 15, 2023,” shared Antoinette. This accomplishment wasn’t celebrated alone, Antoinette was accompanied by the Project YES Africa team, friends and coworkers for the ribbon cutting ceremony in South Africa. “I never thought a group chat with my coworkers would lead to donations and in-person support. A lot of this was done in Keith’s memory.” Keith always said, “If you start something, you need to finish it.” Accomplishing this goal has provided memories to cherish for a lifetime. “I can finally say, WE did it!”

Behind the Wings is a Piedmont feature that highlights the accomplishments of the aviation professionals who make us Piedmont Proud inside and outside the airport. Piedmont is proud to recognize our team members who take part in National Volunteer Month and their contributions to the success of the airline while making a difference in their communities.