The Abilities within Us All
Written by For Once In My Life   
Thursday, 10 February 2011 00:00

Dennis Pastrana, President & CEO, Goodwill Industries of South Florida

Goodwill is more than a place to donate your used clothing and household goods. People of all backgrounds and experiences gain independence, self respect and dignity by learning skills at Goodwill that enable them to become employable, find jobs, and participate fully in their communities.

Goodwill employees are the lucky ones, though, because we get to be witnesses to the amazing triumphs and transformations of the individuals who walk through our doors each and every day.
Soon, people everywhere will have the opportunity to witness this as well. A documentary film, For Once In My Life, follows the members of The Spirit of Goodwill® Band made up of program participants at Goodwill Industries of South Florida in Miami, as they prepare for the concert of a lifetime.

The Spirit of Goodwill Band began at Goodwill Industries of South Florida (Miami) in 1981, as a way to foster and encourage social and recreational skills among people with disabilities, and to actively integrate them in the community. Today, the band is made up of 28 members with a wide range of disabilities, including Autism, Down Syndrome, cerebral palsy, blindness and behavioral disorders. In the film, the band is preparing for a performance at the 2008 U.S. Mayor’s Convention in Miami, attended by more than 1,000 people, including mayors from 440 U.S. cities and Miami Mayor Manny Diaz.

The film won the Documentary Feature Audience Award at this year’s South by Southwest Conference and Festival. Filmmakers Jim Bigham and Mark Moorman collaborated with the Goodwill in Miami to launch a film that would spotlight the abilities, rather than disabilities of the band members. Music icon Emilio Estefan also supported the film, providing access to his music and his artists.


For Once in My Life shatters stereotypes of what it means to be “disabled.” Each band member’s story shows the triumphs and challenges faced in the goal to be a musician – first learning an instrument, then playing together as a group. Most of the members never played an instrument before joining the band, and those that did had never before played in a band.
 Viewers follow the lives of lead singer and saxophonist Terry, who is blind; pianist Christian, a virtuoso who is blind and autistic; and soprano Nancy, who has a mental disability and is the primary caretaker and breadwinner for her two older siblings, who also have disabilities, and many other inspiring individuals.

For Once in My Life provides a message that is consistent with Goodwill’s philosophy: the people we serve have the same potential and warts that we all possess. Just given the opportunity, we can all do amazing things.

There are many great moments in the documentary that illustrate the band members at work, alongside their case managers and fellow program participants. The profound impact the musical experience has on their lives is evident as they develop new skills and confidence, and experience accomplishment, pride, joy and satisfaction in their music. Thanks to this program, they have overcome many challenges in their social lives, learning to see themselves as productive citizens contributing to society and inspiring many with their talents.

Goodwill is a visionary organization that is making this happen in communities every day, in programs like the one featured in the film, and through vocational rehabilitation training and employment services. We believe in the abilities of people who have disabilities. We give them opportunities to succeed and help make their dreams come true.

 It is extraordinary to see these 28 people performing music at as high a caliber as their non-disabled, professional peers. For Once in My Life is proof that people with disabilities should be given the same opportunities as everyone else.

To learn more about working with people with disabilities, visit

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