MANATEE -- After Goodwill Manasota's grand opening party Tuesday to celebrate its new corporate center near U.S. 301 and State Road 70, the following became clear:
"American Idol" top-five finisher and Braden River High School graduate Sam Woolf could retire a rich man just by singing the national anthem at grand openings across the nation.
Goodwill's spacious new digs at 2705 51st St. E. have become so admired for its productivity among 175 Goodwill hubs across the nation, it has been designated an international training site.
Bob Rosinsky, president and chief executive officer, told the crowd of 200 that Goodwill Manasota has become "a better place to be" for war veterans, those crippled by disease or accidents
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and those dealing with mental illness -- all of whom can find work at Goodwill.
"We celebrate our veterans every day," Rosinsky said. "This Goodwill you are sitting in today will be an international training center. But more than that, it is a reflection of a caring community represented by all of you who attended today. You have all helped build this gateway."
Woolf quickly won over the crowd, many of whom sang the words of "Babylon," "I'm Yours," "3 A.M." and "The Same" along with him while taking videos with their cell phones.
The crowd's favorite song on Veteran's Day was his first of the night -- a rendition of the national anthem, which is a difficult song to perform.
"Don't forget the national anthem," said Sam Woolf fan Grier Ferguson of Nickel Communications, when asked to comment on Woolf's set.
Woolf has sung the national anthem less than a dozen times but he loves it, said his mentor, Bradenton's Del Couch, who accompanied Woolf to the performance.
"It's an incredible rendition," Couch said. "It's a pop ballad version of the national anthem. It's his style. It's the quality in his voice. It's the way he sings it and the way he enunciates the notes. His voice is so pure and uplifting it adds a lot of tone and dimension. Too many try to sing it in too high a key."
The national anthem became a happening with the crowd hanging on Woolf's every phrasing rather than praying that he could get through it, as crowds often do when the song is sung, Couch said.
They roared approval when he finished.
After the 20-minute concert, a smiling Woolf said he lost his set list and had to improvise. But he never stopped smiling. He stayed two hours to take pictures with fans.
"I once bought a leather jacket at Goodwill," Woolf told a fan.
Woolf is recording his first album in Woodstock, N.Y., with well-known producer Danny Blume with an early 2015 release planned, Couch said.
"It will be a country pop EP with six original songs," Couch said. "I think the songwriting on the album ranks right up there with the best young talent out there, like Ed Sheeran and Sam Smith."
"One song will be kind of reggae and one pop alternative," said Couch who said the as-yet untitled CD release party may be held at IMG Academy where a concert Sept. 27 was rained out.
"National Anthem" might be a good name for the first album based on fan reaction to the song Tuesday.
Woolf, who had Bradenton fans watching "American Idol" two days a week during his run, is now living in Nashville, Tenn., and travels to Knoxville to see his girlfriend, who attends the University of Tennessee, Couch said.
"I watched Sam the whole year," Ferguson said. "He sounds better in person than he does on TV. I think he has a bright future. I see him as a crossover artist between country and pop like how Taylor Swift got started. That will give him a high appeal in the country."
Couch, who played in the Billy Rice Band locally and still performs with Shaman, said Woolf has a concert called Winterfest set Feb. 28 at the Premier Sports Complex in Lakewood Ranch. Woolf will open for the Doobie Brothers and War.
Next year, Woolf will take a scholarship to Berklee College of Music in Boston while still making Nashville his base.
"He needs a music education, which elevates your skill," Couch said.
Goodwill fans were taking cell phone pictures of the inside of the new Goodwill facility as eagerly as they were snapping Woolf.
"It's beautiful," aid Steve Altier of Seaside National Bank & Trust, which financed equipment for the Goodwill retail store building.
Seaside National Bank & Trust is one of a list of businesses and people who donated to earn naming rights to rooms in the building, in Seaside's case a conference room.
"I love what Goodwill does," Altier said. "The mission is what they are all about, which is the jobs they create. It's a first-class organization."
Naming rights can be had for $5,000 up to $1 million for the building, which is still available, said Goodwill Manasota Vice President Veronica Brandon Miller.
Goodwill Manasota earned the respect of the other 175 Goodwill entities because of its business acumen, said Ruth Williams, vice president of Goodwill Manasota's Mission Development Service.
"One of our roles with this new building is to help teach other Goodwills best practices," said Williams. "Goodwill people know the word Manasota all over the country."
Bob Stanell of CS&L CPAs of Bradenton and Sarasota said he became sold on Manasota Goodwill a long time ago.
"It's the work and the mission and the validity of the outcomes," Stanell said. "The results are genuine. People are being served. It's visible and life changing. I've seen the mission at work. I've seen the faces."
Manatee County Commissioner Larry Bustle read a proclamation commending Goodwill.
Neil Spirtas, senior vice president of the Manatee County Chamber of Commerce, told a touching story about his grandfather working at Goodwill after he retired.
The Manatee High color guard carried the colors.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter @RichardDymond.