Flying High Graduates Soar Above Adversity

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – DeOndre Walker decided to make a change in his life after the killing of his 16-year-old cousin, Isaiah Walker.

#DoItForZay became more than a hashtag and a slogan, Walker said, but a way of life. “Not only did I love him, but he looked up to me. I was a role model to him, and he valued my opinion,” Walker said during the Professional Development Center’s winter graduation ceremony Dec. 1. “Most of all, I had his respect.”

Walker was one of 28 individuals who received certificates of completion in different vocational trainings. PDC is a division of Flying High Inc., a Youngstown nonprofit. Walker received his commercial driver’s license through Flying High’s partnership with Northeast Ohio Truck Driver Training LLC, based in North Jackson.

After years of “doing things he wasn’t proud of,” Walker decided it was time to make a change and go back to school to better himself. Isaiah’s killing in May, which remains unsolved, was the final push he needed. He recalled a discussion with his uncle, Isaiah’s father, who asked what Walker did to better Isaiah’s short life.

“He sat all the men down in the basement and asked us specifically what we were doing to contribute to him being a better person and living a better life than what’s the norm around the community,” Walker said.

“When he got to me, all I could say was ‘survive.’ Then I realized that I never taught him anything or showed him anything that let him be successful. So from that day on, I gave up doing anything negative that wasn’t improving my life in a positive way,” Walker said.

The transition from his old lifestyle to one where he gets up at 4:30 a.m. and drives a tractor-trailer was hard but worth it, Walker says. He had tried to get into the welding program years before at 18, but said he wasn’t mentally ready to change. He said if he could do it, then anyone can.

“There are so many times in life when we go through things that cause us to shut down or be submissive to a semblance of what we’ve been shown and thinking that’s all we could be,” Walker said. “But I challenge you to overcome your adversity and master your own fate. For me it was knowing the new path that I chose would have made him [Isaiah] proud.”

Flying High helps individuals remove barriers that might prevent them from obtaining employment, such as substance abuse. Its Professional Development Center offers programs in welding and machining, as well as certifications for state tested nursing aides and chemical dependency counselor assistants. Students can also complete a GED.

The students who complete the training are often placed into jobs while they are in school, if not immediately after graduation.

“It’s our mission to help all people develop their potential, discover their destiny, and create opportunities for them to make their lives better,” Jeff Magada, the organization’s founder and executive director, said. “We’re blessed to be able to walk through these journeys with students that have chosen to take advantage of this opportunity.”

In its 20 years of existence, Flying High has continued to evolve and provide programs that meet the needs of the Mahoning Valley community, PDC admissions coordinator Donna Magada said.

The PDC, recognized by the Ohio Board of Career Colleges & Schools, has offered vocational training since 2011. It also operates job placement welcome centers at its downtown Youngstown office and in Trumbull County where residents can walk in and have access to immediate job opportunities.

At the graduation ceremony, Audrey C. Tillis, administrator for the Mahoning County Board of Commissioners, was the keynote speaker and the  recipient of the Eagle Award, which recognizes individuals who have made extraordinary efforts to provide opportunities for people to make their lives better and to help community members work together.

The PDC works with various employers to meet job demand. PDC Case Management services help individuals become prepared and qualified for employment by providing an array of financial support services and a variety of pre-employment trainings and workshops that employers require of job candidates prior to employment.

The PDC also houses staff from the Mahoning-Youngstown Community Action Plan and the Youngstown Urban Minority Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Outreach Program. These partnerships leverage services under one roof that provide job seekers with opportunities for obtaining good-paying jobs.

In addition, the PDC partners with the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber, city of Youngstown Community Planning & Economic Development, Workforce Development Board of Mahoning and Trumbull Counties, Eastgate Regional Council of Governments, Mahoning and Trumbull County Mental Health & Recovery boards, Home for Good and numerous educational training partners.

Pictured at top: DeOndre Walker holds his commercial driver’s license.