SAN RAMON -- The very first day that Kevin Ward showed up to work, he struck the image of the model employee -- helping in any way he could, his boss Carolyn Schnelle recalled.

"Since the day he got here he was super-enthusiastic ... and we told him exactly what we needed," she said. Every day he'd come into work, he'd do his job as he was asked to, straightening out the rows of products lining the store shelves at the CVS store where he worked. "But he quickly got bored with that and actually said, 'Hey, 'I need something else to do.' "

Kevin Ward, 17, right, with his mother Sandy Howard at an awards ceremony held at the CVS store in San Ramon, Calif. on Thursday, May 22, 2014. Kevin
Kevin Ward, 17, right, with his mother Sandy Howard at an awards ceremony held at the CVS store in San Ramon, Calif. on Thursday, May 22, 2014. Kevin received $200 from the Workability program that he particpates in through the San Ramon Valley Unified School District. (Jim Stevens/Bay Area News Group)

His always-earnest, hardworking and helpful demeanor made him a standout employee. That's why Ward, 17, a junior at Dougherty Valley High School, was one of five students statewide awarded last week with the Student Award of Excellence through the CVS Workforce Initiative. The award recognizes students who exhibit exemplary job performance at CVS, through the state-funded WorkAbility I job training program, which trains students in special education programs across the state. The Northern California winner of the award, Ward was among 32 students nominated in the state.

"It was exciting," Ward said about learning the news he'd won the award. "I was happy, and it was on my school's announcements yesterday and today."

"Just helping customers get what they need -- it makes me feel like a good person," he said.

Ward's eagerness to keep learning new things on the job, where he works two days a week after school, soon had him entrusted by Schnelle, who is the store manager, to scan products with the store's handheld unit. Soon he was assisting with a variety of tasks, including performing UPC code audits for price changes, and he was put in charge of looking over specific areas of the store, ensuring that they are always in tiptop shape.

"He's a constant worker," she said of Ward, who stood shyly underneath a big arch of red and white balloons at a party held in his honor May 22 near the inside entrance of the CVS Pharmacy at 490 Market Place in San Ramon, where he works. "He's always helping customers. We often see him helping people with items ... so he's fantastic."

"A lot of employees just come here for the paycheck, but he really wanted to learn and was really interested in the work," Schnelle said.

At the party, Ward was presented with the award and a $200 check, which he plans to use to save up for a used car, he said. Intricately-decorated cupcakes and plastic water bottles, with labels personalized with his name, were handed out to family members and school and store employees gathered.

Kevin Ward, 17, of San Ramon, received $200 from the Workability program on Thursday, May 22, 2014. He participates in the Workability program through the
Kevin Ward, 17, of San Ramon, received $200 from the Workability program on Thursday, May 22, 2014. He participates in the Workability program through the San Ramon Valley Unified School District. (Jim Stevens/Bay Area News Group)

At the shindig, Ward showed off one of his most impressive accomplishments, a PowerPoint presentation he put together, with the help of teachers, which has been used to help train other CVS student workers in the program. The professionalism of that presentation just made him a shoo-in for the award, said Noralyn Giles, a WorkAbility coordinator for the district and Ward's job training coach.

Offered through a California Education Department grant, WorkAbility is a career exploration and preparation program serving students in special education departments that is in its first year with the San Ramon Valley Unified School District. It serves about 400 high school students in the special education program by teaching them career preparation skills, and it places about 100 students in state-subsidized part-time jobs during the school year at a variety of businesses in the community. It helps the students transition from school to work and more independent living.

"When WorkAbility came into the classroom, I think a light bulb came on in him," said Donella Daggett-Buchanan, one of Ward's teachers.

His mother, Sandy Howard, gave her son several tearful hugs at the party.

"He's the best," she said, happily. "He's been on a rough road, but he's come a long way. His dad died when he was 4. It's been one obstacle or another for him, but he's doing really good."

"But he's always been a hard worker," she added. "He's always reaching out doing what he can to help, whether it's washing the car, doing the yard, helping his grandpa with chores around the house or helping his grandma go shopping."

"He's great, and I'm very proud of him," said his aunt Nicole Ward, also filled with emotion. "He's a special kid. He always strives for excellence. He has a great future ahead of him."

"And you know, his dad would be so proud of him," she said.

Contact Joyce Tsai at 925-847-2123. Follow her at Twitter.com/joycetsainews.