Barbara Key-Ramos is making a difference in the lives of
students and families in Southwest Florida. As an advocate for students with
disabilities, she works with various schools in Southwest Florida to build and
create opportunities that empower these students to become confident and
“I chose to work with students who are at risk and with
disabilities because of the experiences and challenges my daughter personally
encountered while attending school and college,” said Ramos.
As the program coordinator for Goodwill Industries of Southwest
Florida and The Able Trust, Ramos
spends her days working in LaBelle, Clewiston and Moore Haven schools,
providing opportunities for students with disabilities to explore future
careers. “In addition, the Florida High School High Tech program helps students
determine their interests and aptitudes, offers job shadowing and internships,
and provides leadership opportunities,” she explained.
With a mission to reduce high school dropout rates and
increase students’ self-esteem, Ramos finds herself using the skills she
learned at Hodges while pursuing her associate and bachelor’s degrees in
“I grew up in a very compassionate, caring, loving,
spiritual and fair household with an emphasis on being a hard worker,” said
Ramos. Beginning to work at the age of 14, she credits her great-grandmother,
Annie Edwards-Cobb Jenkins, and her mother, Inez Key Kearse-Mitchell, for her
academic and personal success.
For 15 years, Ramos served as a receptionist, customer
service representative and trainer for new employees with Lee County Electric
Cooperative, Inc. In 1986, her life changed, saying, “My career began as a
mother, advocate and a caregiver for my daughter.” Ramos also found it
important to become an active volunteer while her daughter was in school.
While volunteering and caring for her daughter, Ramos became
a professional tax preparer for three years. However, in 2002, she made a
career move that would lead her to where she is today. From 2002-2011, she
advanced within the Family Network on Disabilities, Inc., receiving numerous
opportunities such as presenting in the White House “on a platform for a
national need for vocational counselors for students with disabilities,” she
said, as well as working in Washington, D.C. as a conference facilitator with
the Office of Special Education (OSEP) with the U.S. Department of Education
(DE). In addition, she helped to facilitate events at the United States Capitol
that included representatives from the legislature, who supported families with
students with disabilities, and she worked as a parental involvement specialist
for Florida’s 66 school districts for the DE Title I program.
Throughout her time with Family Network on Disabilities,
Inc., Ramos began to contemplate the idea of returning to school, saying, “My
decision was threefold: First, to achieve my educational goal of receiving my
college degree. Second, I wanted to set an educational model/example for my
daughter. Third, I wanted to enhance my professional development skills due to
my position as a technical assistant for several CEOs in the southeastern
states and the Virgin Islands.”
Enrolling in Hodges University’s Associate
in Science in interdisciplinary studies (IDS) in 2004, she enjoyed the scheduling
flexibility offered to working adults, as well as the small class sizes.
Graduating in 2006, she continued her educational pursuits in the IDS
“The education at Hodges has made a tremendous and powerful
impact on my career choice. Further, the education I obtained from Hodges helps
me to use critical analysis for challenges and choices in making decisions and
problem solving from the micro, macro and mezzo social levels in all aspects of
my professional life,” said Ramos.
As a student, she not only took advantage of the skills
learned in the classroom, but she got involved on
campus through the Ambassadors club and a peer program, which provided
support for incoming freshmen. However, during her time at Hodges, Ramos
discovered she, too, needed support.
“My biggest challenge was returning to the university as an
adult and going through a major life transition…I had attended college in the
past, but I felt confident in my returning to complete my educational goal
knowing the professors, along with the mentors and staff would be there for my
academic success,” she said.
Graduating with her bachelor’s in 2008, Ramos continued to
advance within the Family Network on Disabilities, Inc. However, in 2012, she
accepted the position of program coordinator with Goodwill Industries of
Southwest Florida and The Able Trust.
While assisting students in pursuing educational and/or
career opportunities, the rewards of her job are evident through the increase
in students graduating from high school, as well as the increase in her
students’ enrollment in postsecondary institutions and “seeing the students’
improvement and participation in education, vocational and employment
activities in technology.”
As a result of her work with Goodwill Industries of
Southwest Florida, Ramos was honored at the Celebrating Women of Character,
Courage, Clarity and Commitment event at Hodges University in March 2017.