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Positive attitude leads to success despite rocky journey

Nigerian native overcomes scam

VIENNA — About 20 students will graduate from the Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics Youngstown branch in a modified ceremony Monday, and among them is Helon Amos, 20, who has had to rely on a positive attitude and hard work more than most.

A native of Adamawa State in Nigeria, Amos came to the United States at age 15 to attend an amateur athletic basketball summer camp. The camp was supposed to take place in Harrisburg, Pa., for about three weeks — but it turned out to be a scam.

“The police, when they checked to validate it, they checked and it was bogus,” Amos said.

Though he had come to the country by himself, Amos was told he was too young to travel alone back to Nigeria. As a minor, he was detained with other immigrant children in a facility in Chicago. The others were mostly Chinese or from South America, Amos said, so there was an isolating language barrier.

“It was terrible. I was the only person that could speak a little bit of English,” Amos said. “There was nothing to do. We weren’t allowed to go anywhere. All we did was just hang out in the house.”

IN PENNSYLVANIA

Eventually, Amos’ family was able to reach a friend in the U.S., and he was released to a family in New Castle, Pa.

“They’re good people,” Amos said of the American family who took him in.

Amos attended Kennedy Catholic High School in Hermitage and played three years on the school’s basketball team — winning three state championships in those years.

During that time, Amos still could not go home to Nigeria because his travel documents were never returned to him. By the time he got his documents, Amos was partway through his senior year of high school.

“I was like, I might as well just finish it since I already started,” Amos said.

Then, Amos’ classmates started making decisions about college.

“I always had preferred working on engines and stuff, rather than sitting in class behind a desk,” Amos said. With some research, he found PIA, where he has been studying for the past 16 months to become an aviation maintenance technician.

TOUGH PROGRAM

Lori Fine, admissions representative at PIA, said the program from which Amos will graduate is “not easy.”

“It’s a rigorous program. You have to like to fix things. It’s hands on, and there’s a lot of math,” Fine said.

She said in a full class of 50 students, about 44 might graduate. Those who do come out know how to take apart an engine, measure it, inspect it and put it back together.

With a shortage of aviation maintenance technicians in the industry, and only around two percent of technicians under the age of 30, Amos and his classmates are entering a promising job market. Amos already has been offered a position in Norfolk, Va., working for PSA Airlines.

“Basically what we’ll be doing there is fixing the planes and making sure they’re safe to fly on,” Amos said.

Amos has never been to Virginia, but after coming to a new country, a new state is no problem. He said adjusting to the United States was difficult at first because the culture is so different. He misses Nigerian food, the weather there, and his family and friends. Still, Amos said he likes the United States.

“There’s a lot of opportunities. Whatever you want to do, there’s always a system that supports it.”

In his spare time, Amos enjoys watching TV and researching all kinds of topics online. He finally got to visit his family in Nigeria in 2020, right before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“They’re excited for me. They’re happy.” Amos said.

While his journey was not easy, Amos has taken it in stride.

“He’s a cool kid,” PIA campus Director Joseph DeRamo said. “He’s kind of quiet, but he definitely has a smile on his face and a positive attitude, and he works hard.”

“I just think tough situations like that bring out the best in us,” Amos said. “I just approach it with a positive mindset.”

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