Goodwill Manasota Partners with Area Schools on Program for Exceptional Students

Students with disabilities at Booker High School are now earning school credit through vocational training at local Goodwill® retail store.

A partnership between Sarasota County Schools and Goodwill Manasota has enabled Exceptional Student Education (ESE) students from Booker High School to enjoy in-service training and job preparation skills at the Goodwill Mecca location in northern Sarasota. Seven students are learning on the job – five at a time, five days a week, for up to two hours each day – while earning school credit.

Booker High School is just one of the schools participating in the Vocational Instructional Program, which is currently serving 34 ESE students, ages 16-22 / grades 10-12, with varying exceptionalities. Other high schools involved with this program are Bayshore, Desoto, Manatee, North Port and Southeast; the Easter Seals VIP Academy also has six students participating. The school districts provide transportation to and from the most convenient Goodwill retail location. Previous work experience and skill levels are considered for placement in various departments at the Goodwill store.

“We are extremely excited about this program: it offers students real-life work experience and, potentially, a job at Goodwill after they graduate, if they are interested in applying,” said Goodwill Manasota career development facilitator Morgan Howell. “The students learn good employability skills and gain valuable information about the world of work, such as what they enjoy or don’t enjoy doing, the value of teamwork, and the pride of doing a job well.”

The partnership came about as Goodwill Manasota was seeking new partnerships with schools and youth organizations to enhance youth involvement with the nonprofit. Goodwill Manasota leaders met with Booker High School Principal Dr. Rachel Shelley and brainstormed about ways they could work together. Conversation focused on students who are not on a college track due to various challenges. After several Booker High teachers attended a Goodwill Lunch & Learn program to learn more about the organization, Howell met with Blair Woods – the transition and employment trainer at Booker – and the plans for the partnership came together.

James “Blair” Woods has 15 students at Booker High School that he supervises over the course of the school day and arranges work experience for them on campus – and now, with the Goodwill partnership, off-campus as well. Woods accompanies the students to the Goodwill Mecca location each day. He says that the addition of real-life work experience at Goodwill has exceeded his expectations in many ways: the students have really become part of the team at the store and they take their role as representatives of both Booker High and Goodwill very seriously.

“Daily commitment to the job site is an important thing for our students to understand as graduation from high school approaches – this experience will show them that work isn’t necessarily a negative thing,” Woods said. “A positive work atmosphere and the fast pace of the workplace is leaving an amazing mark on these kids. I certainly appreciate the opportunity Goodwill has presented to our students.”

The agreement with the school district is open-ended – Booker High School and Goodwill Manasota hope to continue with the program beyond the current school year. The Vocational Instructional Program started in 2012 with an arrangement with North Port High School and has grown from there. Howell estimates that close to 100 students have benefited from the program since it began and notes that Goodwill would love to engage schools not already participating.

For more about Goodwill Manasota, go to or call 941-355-2721.

Note: As originally published on Goodwill Manasota.