After eight years of serving the community at its North Fort Myers location, Goodwill of Southwest Florida's LIFE Academy will be moving to greener pastures.
The school along, with the Goodwill offices, will move to east Fort Myers as a result of the rate of expansion Goodwill has experienced in recent years. This is mostly because the recession hit and services had to be expanded, according to Kirsten O'Donnell, director of public relations and marketing for Goodwill of Southwest Florida.
LIFE (Life Institute for Education) will move into the 126,000-square-foot facility on Tice Street, which is four times larger than the old offices.
Todd Ryan, career development services director, said he expects the facility to be complete by the end of the year.
"Having them move into the same facility is really exciting for us," O'Donnell said. "The school has been leasing space since it opened, and has been able to expand the size as needed, but it'll give them a home that is a home."
O'Donnell said the size will be about the same, but Goodwill will be able to use it better because they can make the classrooms the size they want rather than try to cram everything into an existing building.
O'Donnell said the move will give the school everything it needs and really show off what Goodwill can do.
"We've named the complex the Opportunity Center because it's going to have life-skills training for adults as well, especially with disabilities," O'Donnell said.
"Because we're starting from scratch, we can tailor to the student's needs," Ryan said. "We're going to have 20 new computers, it will be fantastic."
The Goodwill LIFE Academy opened in August 2005 with just six students. By the end of the year, enrollment had increased to 16, and has grown ever since, to about 40 today, with eight graduates last year, the biggest class to date.
The LIFE Academy is a tuition-free, open-enrollment Lee County charter school designed to promote self advocacy and develop life skills for independent living. Students with intellectual disabilities - such as Down syndrome and autism - from grades 6 through 12 (ages 11-22) are welcome, as well as post-graduate students who have not yet reached age 22.
The individualized programs focus on academic skills, life skills and vocational/ workforce skills. These three areas help students become well-adjusted and productive members of their community in post-school activities.
"That's the neat thing about the school is the students who go through the vocational program, many people wouldn't call them employable," O'Donnell said. "If they can't find a job in the community we guarantee a job with Goodwill for at least a year."