Flying High Gets Graduates Ready to Soar

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Dena Brown had her State Tested Nurse Aide license in 1997 but after doing prison time for felonious assault, her record was preventing her from continuing to practice the career she had worked toward.

“My record was a big, big barrier,” Brown said.

On June 1, Brown was the first STNA to accept her certificate at the Professional Development Center’s spring graduation.

Brown took the opportunity to thank her family and the staff of Flying High Inc., which operates the training center in downtown Youngstown. “It was a hard road, but they didn’t let me give up,” she said.

Flying High helped to get her record together, and were it not for the organization, she would not be where she is now, Brown said. While going through the Flying High program, she was able to get her certificate for qualification for employment and then regain her STNA license in April.

Tajah Strickland waves to family after receiving her certificate. Behind her are Guy Coviello from the Regional Chamber, and Jeffrey Magada, executive director of Flying High.

“Here I am doing my dream job,” Brown said. “So it helps. Flying High is very, very, very helpful. … It was that restart button and I appreciate it.”

Brown is now working full time. Her proud daughter, Desiree Byrd, and grandson, A’King Byrd, attended the graduation. During the Family and Friends part of the ceremony, A’King stood up and congratulated his grandmother.

Brown was just one of 40 people who were celebrated at the event, people who overcame obstacles or mistakes and have persevered to find better opportunities.

Flying High has helped 448 individuals obtain their credentials since it began training adults.

Tyria Tuck, a graduate of the chemical dependency counseling program, said she hopes she can be a light for others as Flying High was for her.

Many graduates not only thanked Flying High, but also fellow classmates for being there to support them on such a life-changing journey as gaining career skills.

“There is no greater day on our calendar than these graduation days,” said Jeffrey Magada, founder and executive director of Flying High. “When we see our students overcome some tremendous obstacles and do the work necessary to earn that certification so they can make careers for themselves and make their lives better. Well, there’s no better day for us to celebrate.”

The 40 new graduates received their earned credentials in vocational tracks that include chemical dependency counseling, nursing, welding, machining and commercial truck driving.

“We can’t stop with these 40,” said Guy Coviello, CEO of the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber, who was the keynote speaker. “We have a responsibility to show others that no matter where we are in life, there is a path to success by hitting refresh.”

Coviello said Ohio is gaining jobs so fast that the worker shortage will reach 750,000 by 2030. Locally, he said there are about 13,000 openings and the shortage is predicted to grow by 5,000 each year between 2026 and 2030. Employers are short on highly skilled workers. He told the graduates that if the job they accept now is not their dream job, they should stay connected to Flying High, continue to lean on their career coaches, work closely with their employers and find opportunities to upskill.

Coviello was recognized with the Eagle Award at the event. The award recognizes individuals who have made extraordinary efforts to provide opportunities for people to make their lives better and help community members work together.

Serenity Williams, 18, received her STNA through the Professional Development Center program on May 26, the same month she also graduated from high school and from YSU with an associate degree in liberal arts and science. She already works in a factory, but she does not plan to stop there. Williams wants to continue her studies until she gains her LPN, her RN and her real estate licenses.

She thanked members of the staff of Flying High, her mother for supporting her and her classmates.

“I know there are times showing up can be very difficult, but the process is never easy. The process builds character,” Williams said. “Whatever it is that you want for yourself, get up and go get it and don’t look back.”

Tajah Strickland said her mother is her inspiration because even though she was working, she got her associate, her bachelor and her master’s degrees.

“So I say, I’m going to get up and I’m going to do something,” said Strickland, who not only received just her STNA but also intends to study for her LPN. “This is only the beginning.”

The Professional Development Center operates Job Placement Welcome Centers in downtown Youngstown and in Warren. Hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Pictured at top: Dena Brown celebrates regaining her STNA license with her grandson, A’King Byrd. Brown thanked her family and the staff of Flying High for their support.