PALM BEACH GARDENS -- Michael Fortes, 23, is one of roughly 1,750 volunteers that keep the Honda Classic running. But unlike most of the others, he is on the autism spectrum.
Fortes and his colleagues from Els for Autism's Work Experience Program reported for duty about 8 a.m. Thursday at volunteer headquarters at PGA National Resort & Spa, ready to dart around the golf course. Their primary task was loading up a caravan of carts with ice and water and delivering it throughout the premises to keep golfers, volunteers and spectators hydrated.
They will do the same Friday.
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"The most exciting thing to me is making sure the golfers and the other people who are here are satisfied with what they have right now," Fortes said. Of working with the other volunteers: "It's amazing because it teaches me to work with a team. It pushes me to do more and better."
The task was the perfect fit for Fortes, who recently completed a six-month work rotation at PGA National, including in the stewarding department. He also loves golf and remembers meeting Tiger Woods by the ninth hole when he was volunteering selling concessions a few years ago.
Fortes is high-energy. Even after climbing onto a trailer and unloading the ice onto four golf carts in the afternoon sun and then removing cases of water from pallets, he's eager to go to the gym for a workout at quitting time.
Since graduating from the Els program, he got his driver's license and started a job that's nearly full time at Trader Joe's. He has side businesses walking dogs and fixing people's technological problems.
"Jack of all trades, that's what I like to be called," Fortes said.
Fortes said he's volunteered independently at the PGA Tour tournament in prior years, but this is the first in conjunction with Els for Autism. Undoubtedly, he's already a hit with his supervisors and other volunteers.
"How'd it go, Michael?" one asks as he's leaving the lunchroom. He shoots a thumbs up and a smile.
"I think the collaboration is good for the kids. The life coaches have engaged them really well," Honda Classic Volunteer Chairman Jim Coleman said, indicating organizers would like to expand the partnership next year. "It's all part of the mission."
The charitable arm of the Honda Classic supports children's charities in South Florida, including Els for Autism. PGA Golfer Ernie Els and wife Liezl started the foundation in 2009. Their only son is affected by autism, a complicated brain disorder that affects one in 42 boys.
Els for Autism Adult Services Coordinator Kerri Morse said PGA National has since hired three participants from Fortes' cohort of the six-month job training program. Two of them work in golf and one in housekeeping.
Tyler Sattler, a fellow volunteer who completed the Work Experience Program, just got a job at JJ Muggs Stadium Grill in Jupiter, Morse said. He's also enrolled at Florida Atlantic University.
After participants complete the program, Els for Autism provides job placement services and coaching, Morse said. The next work experience will be at Jupiter Medical Center.
"What's most important to us is not only that they attain employment, but they become active members of our community and be able to demonstrate they can give back," Morse said.
This article is written by Sarah Peters from The Palm Beach Post and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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