- Associated Press - Friday, March 24, 2017

MOGADORE, Ohio (AP) - Goodyear hosted a party at the blimp’s house Thursday, and about 200 Akron students were the guests.

The Akron Public Schools eighth-graders, who make up the LeBron James Family Foundation’s first I Promise class, visited the hangar at Wingfoot Lake.

The students, who have been in the program since third grade, got a behind-the-scenes look Thursday at Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.’s operations and a chance to explore career opportunities during the Hometown Innovation outing.

Goodyear had 100 volunteers on hand to make the students feel welcome. They lined the entryway and let out whoops and cheers when each group of students arrived. An arch of star balloons in Goodyear blue and yellow stretched over a corner of the hangar where stations were set up, including a place to design a tread for a racing tire, sign a tire made especially as a gift for the foundation, learn about a career as a blimp mechanic and other jobs, and program their own message for the blimp display.

The blimp was there, too - the same one christened last fall by Savannah James, wife of LeBron.

“Our whole hope with the kids is that they are going to go through a variety of experiences and talk to Goodyear associates and help see themselves in different careers they could have at Goodyear,” said Alison White, director of community engagement at the company. “It’s all about Hometown Innovation here in their backyard,” said Emily Cropper, senior PR manager for airship communications.

Experiences such as Thursday’s, in the shadow of the airship Wingfoot Two, can help students as they are choosing their career paths, said Keith Liechty, Akron Public Schools’ coordinator for school improvement.

“What’s really exciting about our partnership with the foundation is they are able to accelerate some of the experiences for our kids,” he said. “Our high schoolers are really focused on college and career and access and activities and so here we have eighth-graders who are already out in the field, talking to business professionals, learning about the different careers and STEM opportunities.”

James wants the students to have the opportunity to explore and hopefully ignite a passion they might not know they have, much like he did, said Michele Campbell, the foundation’s executive director.

It’s about connecting to the community as well.

“It’s about showing them … they can get a job here (and) stay here, helping them feel inspired,” White said. “As the kids grow up, they can think of Goodyear as a place to work. It’s not this big, kind of far off company they could never see themselves at. Knowing people that work there and jobs they could see themselves in, they kind of start to see the potential that they could have.”

After a welcome from Mason McClelland of Goodyear’s IT development program, foundation volunteer Konstantine Howley led the students in reciting the “I Promise” pledge.

During their visit, the students talked to employees such as Shannon Thompson, business center manager at Innovation Center Manufacturing at Goodyear, who came to Akron from Union City, Tennessee, and Topeka, Kansas, after a plant closure. Her department produces NASCAR race tires and made the special tire with the foundation imprint on it that students were able to sign.

“I never thought I would leave Union City,” she said. “But … the doors closed and my career continued to advance. I’m just following the lead. … It’s a pleasure for me to be here as a role model for the eighth-graders.”

Terry McKenzie, working supervisor for product evaluation, proudly showed cellphone pictures of himself in a blue jumpsuit and helmet getting out of a bright red Camaro he had test driven.

He was hired during his last year at East High School in 1974 and has been with the company ever since. He used to walk by Goodyear “all the time,” see the test vehicles and wanted to work for the company. One day, his dream came true when two people out of his senior class were chosen to interview at either Goodyear or the East Ohio Gas Co. His first interview was at Goodyear.

“The guy said the reason why he had hired me is because I told him I had seen Goodyear in my future,” he said. He began in the mailing department, and now he makes sure the right tires get put on the right cars, traveling to various racetracks around the country. He went from walking past the company to now driving for it.

Students were enjoying the day, too.

Jayden Shippe, 13, of Litchfield middle school, said it was a “great experience. I’m learning new stuff with my friends. … I met a lot of very nice people.” He said he wants to be an engineer if the NBA doesn’t work out.

Autumn Albertson, 13, of Miller South School for the Visual and Performing Arts, was excited to see the blimp up close.?”It’s very nice for the eighth-graders to get information on it,” she said. “I’m learning new things and different things today. … This is exciting and completely brand new to me.”


Information from: Akron Beacon Journal, https://www.ohio.com

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