The sky's the limit

The youths help with planning, navigation and flying.
YOUNGSTOWN -- Taking a group of troubled, inner-city kids on a weekend vacation might not be everybody's idea of a good way to unwind.
But for three Mahoning County lawyers, it's something they look forward to, and they do it three or four times a year.
"This is my fun thing in life," said Doug Taylor, an attorney and director of the Beight Farm's aviation program. The Beight Farm, a nonprofit corporation in New Middletown, provides services for at-risk youths, including summer camps, a farming and gardening program and the aviation program, which Taylor began in 1994.
The aviation program includes a short, introductory ground course on flying, and short, local plane rides.
It culminates in a weekend trip to places like Michigan, Wisconsin or the Air Force Museum in Dayton.
"It provides a lifetime memory for many of these kids," Taylor said. "It's a positive thing that they'll never forget."
Latest flight: A week ago, 10 kids were flown to Cape Hatteras, N.C., for a three-day outing of camping, fishing, cooking over a fire and playing on the beach.
At night, they sat around the fire and shared their life experiences.
Most of the kids have never been outside Mahoning County, let alone seen the ocean, Taylor said. Seeing their reaction makes the trip all the more special.
Taylor, Ronald Knickerbocker and Joe Maxin are all lawyers and pilots. They donate their time, fuel and airplanes to fly kids on the weekend getaways. New Springfield businessman Tim Bodnar also participates in the program.
Hands-on experience: Maxin, who serves as an assistant county prosecutor assigned to the county engineer's office, said the flight program is a chance to teach the kids lessons about life and science.
The youth must learn about weather, math, navigation, safety, responsibility, logical thinking and radio operation, he said.
A certified flight instructor, Maxin allows youth who fly with him to actually take the controls and fly the plane during the flight. All the pilots fly four-passenger planes so the kids can rotate sitting up front and helping with navigation and flying, Taylor said.
Maxin said he hopes the program and trips will instill his love of flying in at least some of the kids, who might consider aviation as a career.
"We stress to them that if they want to do this, they have to stay in school and learn as much as they can," said Maxin, of Canfield.
Knickerbocker, of Boardman, said he grew up learning about the importance of giving to others. His father is a former director of the local Salvation Army chapter.
"My wife and I have been involved with kids for years," he said. "It's just something we love to do."
Expansion hopes: Taylor said he hopes to expand the program to include trips for retired or disabled pilots from World War II and the Korean War, most of whom probably have not flown since their military service ended.
He deflects credit from himself onto the other pilots and others who make the program go.
"Lawyers get a lot of bad raps, but it's mostly lawyers who support this program," he said.
Funding for the aviation program is provided through private donations, though the Beight Farm hopes to establish an endowment fund to keep it going.
"What we're trying to do is hook the kids into thinking about what they want to do in life," Taylor said. "If this can help turn them around, then that's wonderful."

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