(October 9, 2020) — Every day after school last year, when Diven Rosario Martinez was a senior at Pinellas Park High, he would pass the National Aviation Academy and picture the possibilities.
It brought to mind his grandfather, an airplane mechanic in Puerto Rico, or his father, who had been an auto mechanic on the island before moving his wife and 5-year-old son to Florida to start a new life. And he would imagine himself in a career servicing jets and keeping them safe to fly.
“My passion for aviation really began when I visited Puerto Rico a few summers ago and saw the airport where my grandfather worked,” recalls the 18-year-old. “He showed me around and let me see the planes he was working on. And that’s when knew I wanted to do that, too – to make super-huge planes fly.”
After a field trip to the academy, Diven (pronounced Dee-vin) was sold. One day after school, he decided to return and find out how to enroll. He quickly learned that the cost would be impossible for his family to handle, but there was hope. A financial aid advisor at the academy put him in touch with the Youth Connect program of the Pinellas Education Foundation. The upshot: Today Diven’s dream is off the ground and rising fast as an avionics tech in training.
After graduating from high school in late May, he officially enrolled in the National Aviation Academy in August and has been immersed in classes eight hours a day, five days a week ever since. Yet even with Youth Connect’s assistance, his career aspirations would most likely not have taken flight without a generous grant from Bank of America.
The majority of Youth Connect financial support goes toward helping train – and place – young adults who are not in school and seeking help in career training. But for young adults like Diven, who want to go straight from school into a training program, an alternate source of funding is needed beyond what Youth Connect can provide.
The situation has been further complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has had a disproportionate economic impact on high school graduates with no job credentials or training. Because jobs are harder to find in this uncertain economy, marked by high unemployment, a pressing need has arisen to help these youth obtain critical training.
That is what prompted Bank of America to step in with assistance – covering otherwise prohibitive tuition, fee and supply costs for Diven and many others in similar circumstances.
“Employment and education are powerful levers that connect individuals to economic success,” said Bill Goede, Bank of America’s Tampa Bay President. “We’re connecting individuals to the training, education and support they need to obtain a meaningful job and build their careers. Helping young people, like Diven, find careers and economic success helps create a vibrant Tampa Bay.”
“We would not have been able to serve Diven without Bank of America,” adds Youth Connect program manager Lauren DeCourcey. “I sincerely believe he would not have been able to attend the National Aviation Academy without their help. That’s why we are so grateful to them for supporting Diven and others.”
Of course, Youth Connect makes an immeasurable difference in many ways for so many Pinellas youths, who need career help and stability in their lives. Under the auspices of Career Source, the work-readiness program provides vital guidance and financial resources. Youth Connect offers services and resources to assist qualified individuals, between 16 and 24, in enrolling in and completing educational training programs. The services are free and may include counseling, help with educational costs, and job placement.
Last year Youth Connect served 276 students, had 116 new enrollees and contributed to nearly 100 positive outcomes (with employment, post-secondary and the military). “Youth Connect is an amazing resource for students who are low-income and need help,” Diven says. “They not only help you while you’re in school, but even after you graduate.”
He certainly needed a boost considering the challenges he and his family faced after coming from Puerto Rico 12 years ago. Diven spoke no English, and his parents had only meager financial resources, relying on food stamps and low-income housing. He eventually learned the language through ESOL classes, felt more at ease by middle school and began studying criminal justice at Pinellas Park High. And when he decided to switch to avionics as a senior, Youth Connect was there to pave the way.
Diven was put in touch with youth career coordinator Kermara Robillard, who did an initial assessment and ensured that he was eligible for the program. After passing a math and reading test, he was ready to roll as a new member of Youth Connect. With the funding from Bank of America, Diven won’t have to go out of pocket at all in the 21-month academy program. Even his transportation money is covered with $50 gas cards provided by Youth Connect. “I couldn’t believe that they pay for that!” he says.
“Once Diven has completed the program, we’re going to help him with his resume so he can find a job in his field,” Robillard explains. “He has a great personality and he’s very motivated to succeed. You can just tell that this is what he wants.”
Diven is thrilled to dive in to his avionics classes, while earning money in a part-time job at Sky Zone Trampoline Park after school. The money goes toward helping out at home, where he lives with his mom and younger sister. “I try to arrange my schedule so I can study in between,” he says. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it.”
And with the help of Youth Connect, the sky is the limit.