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Special School District of St. Louis County
 
Making a Presence in the Workforce

Matt Gooden's presence at St. Louis Children's Hospital is impossible to miss. Walking through the halls, you’re likely to encounter his ever-present smile and friendly demeanor. But in addition to serving as an unofficial greeter, he also makes his presence known through his work.

He is hard to miss going down the hall with a large wheeled trash container that he uses to transport the seemingly endless amounts of refuse that is produced each day in a hospital.

"We'd be in big trouble if we just left trash lying around," said Matt, who works in housekeeping at Children's Hospital.

Before he was hired there, Matt worked as a volunteer at the hospital through SSD’s Vocational Skills Program. In addition to working in housekeeping, he obtained work experience in the shipping and receiving department, and in the gift shop, eventually being named Children’s Hospital Volunteer of the Month.

Through his stellar work as a volunteer, upon graduation in 2005, Matt earned a full-time job at Children's, and has worked there ever since.

"He's just one of the people we really value around here," said Barbara Middleton, Matt’s supervisor. "He's a team leader. He’s one of the people we always go to around here—he's our go-to guy." Currently, nearly 200 students aged 17 to 21 participate in the Vocational Skills Program at SSD to gain additional help with learning job and independent living skills beyond what they’ve received in high school.

"A lot of the students that come to our program have never held a paid position," said SSD special education teacher Donna Wester. "The main goal of the program is for the students to get a job, so that's our focus." Matt has gone beyond finding just one job. Along with his full-time position at Children's Hospital, he also works at UPS part-time in its shipping department.

Although employment is the primary focus, the Vocational Skills Program highlights several other important areas for students transitioning beyond school. Students learn about traveling independently using public transportation through a one-on-one training program hosted by Metro. Students also practice money skills and budgeting and learn how to live independently, Wester said.

"We work with agencies and help find community resources for the students," she said.

Now, seven years after graduation, Matt continues to thrive due to the skills he learned from SSD's Vocational Skills Program. He credits SSD as being an important factor in making him the success he is today.

"I still look back to when I used to be in the program," Matt said. "I learned how to keep a job, be on time, call whenever I’m going to be late. I learned a lot."


Matt Gooden
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Special School District of St. Louis County (SSD) is a leader in providing special education services to students with disabilities and also provides a wide range of career and technical education programs.
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