Passion For Radio-Controlled Cars Leads Florida Man To New Career

Goodwill Industries International Names Michael Merriman its 2018 Graduate of the Year
Okeechobee, FL. – When Michael Merriman was six months old, he was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, which heavily impacted his mobility and ability to speak. Yet that hasn’t stopped him from working toward a career, achieving professional success and exploring new ways to express himself.  Goodwill Industries International is honoring Merriman as its 2018 Kenneth Shaw Graduate of the Year.
Merriman is hardworking, bright and outgoing.  Although he has limited speech capabilities, he communicates well using a few words, some gestures and a cell phone for texting. But after graduating from high school, he struggled to find work. He was referred to the Gulfstream Goodwill Industries (West Palm Beach, FL) Supported Employment Program in 2010, where he developed a résumé and learned interviewing skills.
For his first job, Merriman worked at a hunting lodge, cleaning rooms and maintaining the grounds. It was a seasonal position, and he wanted to find something more permanent.  His Goodwill job coach noticed that he loved to spend his spare time visiting a hobby shop, where he learned to build and race radio-controlled cars.
The Goodwill team contacted the store’s owner and asked if she would consider hiring Merriman. Two years later, he’s now working full time at Big Lake Hobbies, where he repairs cars, helps frame artwork, maintains the store and assists customers.
“He’s developed a very keen sense of how our operations work. He’s always there, ready to help, oftentimes anticipating what I may need and taking care of it before I even have to ask,” said Kathie Papasso, owner of Big Lake Hobbies. “When I host private art lessons, he will prepare the area ahead of time and have everything in place, ready for the lesson. Michael loves working here and we sincerely love having him here.”
Papasso encouraged Merriman to pick up a paintbrush and try painting himself. With his eye for color, and attention to detail, he was a quick study. He began displaying and selling his artwork at the store, and has won several awards in local competitions.
“Michael is a person living with cerebral palsy, presenting him physical, social and other challenges every single day, but he does not let that define him,” said Susan Bykofsky, general manager at Gulfstream Goodwill Industries. “He approaches each day with optimism, determination and a commitment to achieve personally and professionally.”
“All Michael needed was an opportunity to show how smart and industrious and talented he is,” said Jim Gibbons, president and CEO of Goodwill Industries International. “He has taken the first steps on a path to reaching his full potential. Through our job training and placement services, the Goodwill network strives to provide the kind of support that connects capable people like Michael to employers who value their skills.”
Asked what he sees in his future, Merriman said he wants to be an artist and own his own business.
The Goodwill Industries International (GII) Kenneth Shaw Graduate of the Year award recognizes an outstanding person with a disability or disadvantaging condition who completed a Goodwill Industries® career services program and is competitively employed by a non-Goodwill employer.
Malini Wilkes
Public Relations and Multimedia Manager
Goodwill Industries International
Phone: (240) 333-5523
[email protected]
Gulfstream Goodwill Industries,Inc., West Palm Beach is a non-profit organization dedicated to changing lives through Employment, Training, and Housing. Since 1966, the organization has offered a wide range of employment and training programs to assist those with disabilities and other barriers to employment in developing their marketable skills in order to find meaningful employment. Its efforts are supported by revenue from its 28 retail stores in a five-county area, as well as from monetary donations. For more information, visit
Goodwill Industries International (GII) is a network of 162 community-based, autonomous organizations in the United States and Canada with a presence in 12 other countries. GII is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that is recognized by GuideStar with its Platinum Seal of Approval, the organization’s highest rating for charities. GII was also ranked by Enso as the #1 brand doing the most good in the world for two consecutive years, and was the only nonprofit brand rated in Forbes’ 20 most inspiring companies for three consecutive years. Local Goodwill organizations are innovative and sustainable social enterprises that create job training programs, employment placement and other community-based programs by selling donated clothing and household items in more than 3,300 stores collectively and online at®. Local Goodwill organizations build revenues and create jobs by contracting with commercial, state, government and non-government organizations to provide a wide range of business services, including manufacturing, warehousing and distribution, packaging, assembly, food preparation, document management, groundskeeping and administrative. Last year, local Goodwill organizations collectively placed more than 288,000 people in employment in the United States and Canada. In addition, more than 35 million people used computers and mobile devices to access Goodwill education, training, mentoring and online learning services to strengthen their skills, and more than 2 million people received in person services. To learn more, visit
For more information or to find a Goodwill location near you, use the online locator at or call (800) GOODWILL. Follow us on Twitter: @GoodwillIntl and @GoodwillCapHill, and find us on Facebook: GoodwillIntl or Instagram: GoodwillIntl.