Disability Mentoring Day, the national effort to help and inspire those with disabilities to seek opportunities in the workforce, is celebrating 20 years on Oct. 16. The special day is held each October during National Disability Employment Awareness Month.
On the local front, area organizations are going the extra mile to commemorate the milestone year by hosting a special Disability Mentoring Day Conference on Oct. 16 at the Great Bend Events Center. 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.
The conference features inspirational keynote speaker David Powell. Despite not having hands or legs, he travels the nation with a message to everyone that it is possible for anyone to live a positive, fun and meaningful life if they possess the willingness to do so. Throughout his life, people have assumed that he cannot do anything because he was born different. He has proven all of them wrong.
“Seeing David Powell overcome the disabilities that he has and motivating the attendees we have at our event is going to be an awesome thing,” said Great Bend DMD Committee chair Cody Harris, who serves as community employment specialist for Sunflower Diversified Services. “I’ve heard nothing but good things about this gentleman. He happens to have no arms or legs, but he hasn’t made any excuses to achieving in life. I’m excited to hear him speak.”
While Disabilities Mentoring Day has taken place in Great Bend for the past 17 years, this is the fifth year that the local DMD committee has featured a conference-style event for people with disabilities. Rosewood Employment Specialist Frankie Pelster said the conference style has proven highly effective for motivating those in attendance to advance employment opportunities.
I’ve been involved with all five of the conferences,” said Pelster. “It’s an extremely effective program for the clientele we serve at Rosewood. We bring in presenters who effectively relate directly to them and convey the message that working is a real option for them. They are not limited to a sheltered workshop, but can have community inclusion. We’ve actually opened some VR (Vocational Rehabilitation) cases because people have attended this event.”
The day begins with registration at 10 a.m., followed by Powell’s hour-long presentation at 10:30 a.m. After lunch, the afternoon is filled with two break-out sessions that feature four session topics for people with disabilities. The event will conclude with a conference wrap-up at 2:15 p.m., which will include prize give-aways.
Two of the session topics will feature Barton Community College opportunities for attendees. A couple of recent Barton graduates who overcame learning disabilities to achieve academic success will talk to attendees about programs, resources and people available to help them navigate enrollment and getting their academic careers started on the right track. Another session will feature computer applications available at Barton’s Student Support Services that aid people with disabilities. Conference attendees will receive hands-on experience with the computer applications.
“We have an exceptional team to help them navigate through their challenges,” explained Krystal Barnes, coordinator of Workforce Training Projects & Events. “The average person is a little intimidated about coming out to college to get enrolled. When you have a learning disability, it can be even more intimidating. There are more roadblocks and more reasons to say, ‘No, I’m not going through with it.’ The conference will provide an opportunity to eliminate some of those reservations and provide a clear first step of how they get started.”
One of the other session topics is titled, “Why Work?,” and David Powell will conduct another session topic.
The DMD committee is reaching out to area high schools to encourage their students with disabilities to attend the event. Organizers see the DMD conference as a valuable resource for students with disabilities who are transitioning to adulthood.
“This event is a big deal for everyone, but especially for them,” said Pelster. “Seeing that people with disabilities are working and achieving has a positive impact on them. They see it as inspiration that if someone else can be employed then employment is a possibility for me, too.”
The Great Bend DMD committee is accepting registration through Oct. 10. Those interested in attending Great Bend’s Disability Mentoring Day can contact Cody Harris by calling 620-792-1321, or by e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Find more about Disability Mentoring Day online, https://www.aapd.com/disability-mentoring-day/, and on Facebook.