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Success Stories

Student with Down Syndrome learning life skills

Danny Lorenzo

Before Danny began attending the Goodwill L.I.F.E. Academy, his mother struggled with finding a school that met his particular needs. Danny has Down Syndrome, and jumped from school to school seeking the attention that he needed to excel.

His mother, Argie, feared that his skills had reached a plateau. After attending five different schools in a span of just eight years, he didn't seem to be learning any new skills.

That changed when Danny began attending the L.I.F.E. Academy. "They're very accessible for the parents," Argie says. "And they're very one-on-one with the students."

Just four years ago, Danny could barely write his name. Now a 23-year-old young man, Danny has graduated with his Special Diploma, and is employed in Goodwill's eCommerce department as a shipping clerk.

Ask Argie about her son, and she'll beam with pride: "Every day I'm surprised by what he can do!"

Student showing off her Diploma Brittanie Jennings
2012 L.I.F.E Academy Graduate
"Goodwill L.I.F.E. Academy has made
such a difference in Brittanie's life,
thank you or your dedication and love
for your students."

Chris Walker
Chris Walker graduate and employee at Goodwill North Fort Myers Store

Chris Walker came to the Goodwill L.I.F.E. Academy as a student in 2006, and made an immediate impact on his fellow students and the staff. "He's always positive, happy, and encouraging," says L.I.F.E. Academy principal Lynn Pottorf. "He befriended everyone."

Chris has Cerebral Palsy and uses a motorized wheelchair. "He's such a bright young man," adds Pottorf. "He has so much intellectual ability, but it's kind of trapped in there. He's got so much going on and we wanted to make sure people recognized his full potential."

To encourage him to live up to that potential, the school welcomed Chris into its vocational transition program. There, he gained job experience through an internship at the Goodwill processing facility.

Chris graduated from the L.I.F.E. Academy in 2009, and was offered a position as a store greeter at one of Goodwill's Retail & Donation Centers. He takes his job very seriously, and spent time practicing his greetings at home with his father, Dennis Walker.

"The customers love him," says Shift Supervisor Debra Beard. "And they're disappointed when they don't see him. When he's not here, they always ask me 'Where's Chris?'"

Dennis is pleased with the progress his son has made. "I remember praying that he'd just be able to communicate with me," says Dennis. "Now, you can't get him to stop talking, so this is the perfect job for him."


Danny Brewster

Danny Brewster working hard at Goodwill Industries of SWFLDanny Brewster's journey with Goodwill L.I.F.E. Academy began in 2005, when the school first opened its doors. Danny, who is developmentally delayed and has autistic tendencies, was one of only six students in attendance on the school's first day.

"I prayed for that school," says Danny's mother, Brenda Smith. "Kids like Danny needed somewhere just for them."

After three years, Danny was invited to participate in the L.I.F.E. Academy transition program, which teaches vocational skills. "During vocational class, I saw Danny grow more social," says Kettina Gadsden, L.I.F.E. Academy Transition Specialist. "He loved the idea of going to work and becoming independent."
Danny completed a two-week internship at Goodwill, and after graduation in 2009, he was offered a job as a merchandise processor at one of Goodwill's Retail & Donation Centers.

Brenda has seen a change in Danny since he began working. "He likes to be a part of things," she says. Since starting his new job, Danny has begun helping around the house more often, doing chores like putting his laundry away. "He's gained independence," Brenda adds. "He doesn't count on mom to do everything for him."
Danny uses the money he earns at Goodwill to help pay for his braces and his bus fare, and sometimes to go out to lunch with friends and family. "You can tell there's pride when he gets his paycheck," says Brenda. "He's happy; he knows that he's contributing. And that makes him grow as a person."