Donna ISD, in conjunction with the Texas Association of School Boards, is thankful to the local Walmart and McDonald’s for supporting the district’s special needs students. Both businesses teamed up with DISD to provide on-the-job training to diverse learners with Down Syndrome, autism and other disabilities.

To be eligible, the students must be between the ages of 18 and 21 and are “aging out” of the school system. The students must also have performed duties on campus such as cleaning tables at the cafeteria and working at the library and the gym folding towels for the athletic department. After they get adjusted to their responsibilities, the students are then transitioned into the work environment at Walmart and McDonald’s in Donna.

This is the second year Walmart is participating in the program with 12 diverse learners working at the store. The students assist employees in different areas by doing custodial work and organizing groceries in the aisles and toys in the toy section. Assistant Manager Carlos Salazar said Walmart is big on giving back to local communities and what better way to do that than by supporting school districts like Donna ISD. He said the diverse learners look forward to coming in and volunteering.

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“I think it’s very important that Walmart take part in this program because we need to build up and support our youth,” Salazar said. “The students need the training and someone to give them an opportunity somewhere along the line. Here at Walmart, they learn job-related skills and when they finish school they can apply for a job with the goal of getting hired.”

Salazar said the program is close to his heart because it is providing his own son real on-the-job experience. Carlos Jr. suffers from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and has a speech disability. “Teaching in the classroom is one thing, but there’s nothing better than on- the-job training and interaction with real customers,” Salazar said. “I’ve seen a difference in my son. He actually wants to come to work and learn what I do. I think it’s great because he needs to learn to succeed in life.”

McDonald’s joined the program this year by offering their workplace to eight diverse learners. The students mostly clean the lobby area and help customers with anything they may need. Manager Robert Colunga said McDonald’s takes pride in supporting the community and helping special needs students develop their skills.

“It feels great that we’re able to do our part,” Colunga said. “Everyone needs to rally in their own city to help the special needs kids so they can better themselves and ultimately provide for themselves. The kids really shine here working alongside our employees and customers.”

Colunga looks forward to providing these opportunities to many more students in the years to come. “Hopefully we can continue partnering with the school district and one day be able to hire some of these kids within our organization. That’s what it’s all about.”