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Disability Mentoring Day conference set for Oct. 21 in Great Bend

Disability Mentoring Day, the national effort to help and inspire those with disabilities to seek opportunities in the workforce, has been going strong for 22 years this month. Across the nation, the special day is held each October during National Disability Employment Awareness Month.

Area organizers have been busy planning details for their version of Disability Mentoring Day scheduled from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Oct. 21 at St. Rose Auditorium, 1412 Baker Ave., Great Bend. It’s a free event to those who register. Great Bend’s Disability Mentoring Day includes representatives from Kansas Department of Children and Families Vocational Rehabilitation, Rosewood Services, Sunflower Diversified Services, Kansas Workforce One, Barton Community College, and the Center For Counseling & Consultation.

This year’s conference has a theme of “Real People, Real Experiences,” and features three Kansans who have overcome challenges to achieve success in life. 

The keynote speaker is Julie Grauerholz, who has traveled from her central Kansas roots to different places across the United Sates and other countries to play her clarinet. She is a five-year successful National Service Veteran in AmeriCorps and has had her photography exhibited several times in the Hays area. The multi-talented Grauerholz was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome a dozen years ago and was relieved to receive her diagnosis, which allowed her to finally understand some of the challenges she faced in her life. 

Will Fritzler, who is a huge motor sports fan and announces motor racing events at the annual Rush County Fair, will address the audience about his day job as human services specialist for the state of Kansas. He’ll also talk about experiences with his previous job working for a Fortune 500 company as a commercial sales manager. There, he earned the “Manager of the Year” award. Fritzler learned resourcefulness growing up raising cattle on a farm in southeast Kansas. He successfully attended school to learn auctioneering, then paid his way through college by conducting auctions.

The third speaker, Noell Hartman, has been a certified peer specialist for the Center for Counseling and Consultation for the past 12 years. For most of her life, she has known the effects of living with a mental health diagnosis. Because of her personal experience, she is passionate about igniting the flame of hope, healing and empowerment of others so that they can experience the possibilities of recovery and leading a life beyond a diagnosis. 

Disability Mentoring Day has taken place in Great Bend for the past 19 years, however the conference was not held last year because of the challenges of dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. This is the sixth year that the local DMD committee has featured a conference-style event for people with disabilities. 

The day begins with registration at 9:30 a.m., followed by an ice breaker and Grauerholz’ presentation at 10:30 a.m. After lunch, the afternoon includes Frizler’s presentation at 12:30 p.m., followed by Hartman’s presentation at 1:30 p.m. The event will conclude with a conference wrap-up at 2:15 p.m., which will include prize giveaways.

Registration that includes a guaranteed meal has ended, but those still interested in attending can inquire to the Great Bend DMD committee by contacting Cody Harris at 620-792-1321, or by email

Sponsors for the Great Bend DMD conference are: Southwest Developmental Services Foundation (platinum sponsor), Kansas Department of Children and Families Vocational Rehabilitation, Rosewood Services, Sunflower Diversified Services, Kansas Workforce One, Barton Community College, the Center For Counseling & Consultation, Culligan Water, Walmart, and Kiwanis Club of Great Bend.