Every morning this summer, Roberto Rodriguez Jr. checked into his job at the Southwest Community Center. He goes to his checklist behind the front desk and starts on his tasks for the day — clean around the center, take out the trash, wipe down the gym equipment.

Rodriguez is one of 93 students who participated in Summer Earn & Learn this year, a Goodwill North Central Texas program that places students with disabilities in internships.

Since 2017, the program has placed more than 600 students in internships, Senior Director of Workforce Development Bobbie Hodges said. Summer Earn & Learn helps students between 15 and 22 years of age gain workforce experience.

“The program is aimed to inspire youth through the power of work, and we want to help them to make positive choices and introduce them to a world of possibilities and a variety of careers,” she said. “The companies that we partner with help us to enhance those types of skills. We want to prepare them for the future through developing and enhancing their skills.”

Students’ disabilities range from unseen, such as autism, to physical disabilities, Hodges said. School counselors can connect the students with Summer Earn & Learn.

How to get involved

Students can be recommended to the program through their transition counselor at school. Parents can inquire about it at their Tarrant County school.

How can I donate?
Wages for Summer Earn & Learn participants and funding for training services are paid by Texas Workforce Solutions Vocational Rehabilitation Services, in collaboration with Workforce Solutions for Tarrant County. Hodges said the best way employers and businesses can support this program is to be a host site. Businesses are not responsible for wages or liability, they must simply provide a work opportunity for 5-10 weeks over the summer, as well as offering support or accommodations for our students with disabilities.

In addition, the donation of gently used clothing and household items to any of Goodwill North Central Texas’ location, provides revenue to support this program and others like it.

Rodriguez has Down syndrome, and his mother, Silivia Rodriguez, and his coach at the center, Tucker Lemman, said he is very independent both at home and at work.

When he moves through the halls at the community center, he greets people there with a fist bump as he goes through his daily routine. Aside from cleaning, he takes care of the turtle, Turtlini, at the center. He has a closet with his cleaning supplies near his checklist.

Rodriguez teaches her son about hard work and completing chores at home so he can know how to cook and clean, she said. She doesn’t want her son to be laz, adding that her son is very smart and used the money he earned to buy a laptop.

Thirty businesses across Tarrant County host students, Hodges said. Some of those businesses include city governments, CVS, YMCA and Six Flags.

Hodges said it costs $3,940 per participating student with a maximum of 161 for the summer.

Students the city employs help with clerical tasks or special projects, William Rumuly, court director for Fort Worth municipal court, said.

Students are learning skills to help gain employment in the future, and they’re especially learning about civil service, he said.

“It really helps us to strengthen our relationships with the community,” Rumuly said. “We get to meet some incredible students. It helps us to learn how to engage the community as a whole, but also individually for those with different ability levels.”

As a father of children with disabilities, Rumuly said the program is personal for him and he wants to help champion students with disabilities. He hopes the program grows and the city participation can increase.

“These types of activities and programs give the opportunity to open eyes to the general public and community that everybody is able to do something,” Hodges said. “Everybody is able to work if they want to work, and we’re just trying to make sure that these youth have that opportunity.”

Editor’s note: This story has been corrected to reflect the ages of students who can participate in the program and Bobbie Hodges’ name.

Kristen Barton is an education reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at kristen.barton@fortworthreport.org. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here. 

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Kristen Barton

Kristen Barton is an education reporter for the Fort Worth Report. She has previous experience in education reporting for her hometown paper, the Longview News-Journal and her college paper, The Daily...