Deonta’ Martin is one of the lead carpenters on the University of Delaware’s $80 million new athletic center. With such responsibility, you might think Deonta’ was a professional carpenter with years of experience in his field. But he is only 20, a young man from a troubled and impoverished neighborhood who is set to graduate from Williamson in 2021.
How he got to where he is today is testament to the work ethic and professionalism he has been fine-tuning at Williamson and the potential that a community center saw in a young boy who was tempted by his peers to take a wrong direction in life.
Deonta’, who has five siblings, came to Williamson with considerable carpentry experience. He also was helping to provide for a mother on disability. Early on, his parents split and she struggled to raise three of the children on her own. They lived in government-subsidized housing and many a night, while she worked, the children slept at the day care center.
Deonta’ showed promise at an early age. At 12 years old, he got a grant-funded job as a camp counselor at Kingswood Community Center, which is well known for its service to the disadvantaged community of Riverside in northeast Wilmington. The staff there knew Deonta’ from the start, when he’d join other kids on the basketball court and as a K-8th grade student at Kingswood’s partner school, EastSide Charter. “If I hadn’t found Kingswood, I would’ve ended up like the kids I used to hang out with—in jail or dead,” Deonta’ says.
Deonta’ came to be celebrated as a positive role model in a community scarred by gun violence. His is the face featured on an inspirational wall mural at the Kingswood Community Center.
“I had a lot of challenges as a kid,” Deonta’ says. “Everyone was pressuring me to do what was wrong. Nobody around was telling me what was right.”
In his junior year at Howard Technical High School, Deonta’ got a part-time job with Specialty Finishes. The construction firm was rebuilding the high school; as part of the arrangement, they hired school tradesmen to help with the project.
Deonta’ was seen as “eager and smart” by his supervisor and the seasoned carpenters who embraced and mentored him. After the summer, Specialty Finishes hired him full time. The high school accommodated him by scheduling his academics first thing in the morning before he went to work. At graduation, Deonta’ was torn between pursuing a college degree at Williamson or continuing to work full time and help his mother. With the advice and support of Jim Magner, General Superintendent of Specialty Finishes, and several of Deonta’s work mates, he chose to get his degree first.
Throughout Williamson, Deonta’ has continued to work part time for Specialty Finishes on his days off and summers. Mr. Magner has observed Deonta’s personal and professional growth at Williamson. “His skill levels are much higher and his overall integrity is off the charts. Whatever they are doing there at Williamson is working!”
Deonta’ enters his senior year with admirable accomplishments. He has made Dean’s List both Fall and Spring semesters of his junior year, been inducted into the Phi Theta Kappa Society, and received the William J. Yearsley 4W1 Award from the Sons of the American Revolution-Philadelphia Chapter.
Deonta’ is the Joan and Will Abele Family Scholar, an honor he has held his junior and senior year at Williamson.
Deonta’s biggest challenge at Williamson was not working a job every day to support himself and help his family. “I’d been providing for myself since I was 12 years old, so depending on someone else for money was hard.”
Not working every day while going to school gave Deonta’ the chance to participate in extra-curricular activities and forge new friendships. He made the USCAA All-Academic All-American team for baseball, and served on the yearbook staff.
Williamson gave Deonta’ a clearer sense of who he was, he says, “Learning the core values, instilling them in my everyday life, allowed me to review my character and define my character – who I was and how I did things. The core values revealed to me what I wanted out of life – the whole idea of getting up, making my bed, not stepping on the grass even, made me more conscientious, more focused.”
Mr. Magner is well aware of the obstacles Deonta’ overcame. “He grew up dodging bullets, literally. His mother had to teach him how to walk home, if they started shooting. We never had talks with our kids like that.
“He really did want a better life for himself and it kind of forced who he is today.”
Deonta’s success keeps drawing more supporters to his side. “Everyone loves him and wants to do whatever they can to help Deonta’ be as successful as he can be,” says Mike Neville, Carpentry Director and Class of 2000 Williamson graduate.
“Deonta’s future is so bright,” says Mr. Magner. “Whether he works for me or not, he’ll end up being a big time supervisor for a world-wide or national company.”
“He brings positivity and excitement to any environment he is in.” says Mr. Neville. “He’s been that way from day one.”
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