VIENNA, Ohio (WKBN) – At 6 foot 8, Helon Amos is not your typical aviation student.
“At times it could probably hinder him,” Joe DeRamo said jokingly.
DeRamo is the Youngstown campus director at the Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics.
“There’s some tight spots they have to climb into and work on. At times it’s going to help him because he can reach things other people can’t,” DeRamos said.
But that’s not what makes his story unique.
Amos grew up in Nigeria. At the age of 15, he was recruited by a basketball talent scout. With the promise of playing in America, his family raised the money needed for a plane ticket and flew him to the United States.
When Amos arrived in Philadelphia, however, there was no one waiting for him. The talent scout didn’t return calls, TSA couldn’t verify his story and despite having a return ticket in hand, Amos was not allowed to fly home because they determined he was too young to travel alone. So instead, he was processed as an undocumented, underage immigrant and shipped off to a detention center in Chicago.
“At first, I thought it was going to be like three days process and they would say ‘OK you can leave,'” Amos said. “Then, three days went to a week. A week turned into a month and so on. They didn’t even let me call my parents for like three months.”
Amos spent five months in that detention center before a family in Western Pennsylvania agreed to become his legal guardian.
“When they told me that, I was like yea, any place is better than this place,” says Amos. “So it was a relief.”
Amos found a home at Kennedy Catholic high school where he played soccer and was part of a basketball team that won four consecutive state titles.
But even then, Amos wasn’t in control of his own life. His case was tied up in court for years. He couldn’t fly home to visit family or even get a driver’s license. He was stuck.
After graduation, his case in court cleared up, and he had more than few opportunities to play soccer and basketball on scholarship in college. For the first time in his life, he had a choice and Amos chose the Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics in Vienna.
“He’s an excellent student,” says DeRamo. “He really excels, and I think it’s really because of his hard work and determination to succeed that really makes him rise above most students. He’s not our average student.”
Amos graduated on Monday and has already accepted a position as an aviation maintenance technician with PSA Airlines in Norfolk, Virginia.
“I think I’m most excited about freedom,” says Amos. “I’ll get to do whatever I want because if you remember, my first four to five years here it was like you can only go here, you can only leave here, you can only do this. So, I get to move around wherever I want. And that’s one of the perks of this job too. You get to go anywhere you want.”
With their ties to American Airlines, Amos can now fly anywhere in the world for free, including home to his family in Nigeria.
“Yea, I mean, it will be spectacular,” says Amos. “They’re probably going to throw a party or something so that’s good.”