An upcoming conference and workshop will provide life skills and an inspirational message to students with disabilities and their families.

So far, more than 230 students from 18 area schools are signed up for the Youth First Conference set to take place on Tuesday, Nov. 5. The conference is put on by Educational Service Unit 13 in collaboration with vocational rehab.

The event places an emphasis on pre-employment services, self advocacy skills, workplace readiness skills and educational opportunities beyond high school, Diane Reinhardt, a secondary transition consultant at ESU 13, said.

During the conference, the students will participate in “Career Speed Dating,” where they will go to different tables and learn about various careers. Each presenter will give a 15-minute talk about what they do and once time is up, students will move on to the next.

They will also have the opportunity to choose from 21 different sessions to attend on subjects such as making and keeping friends, money management, dating and relationships, self-advocacy, applying for jobs and coping strategies.

“We want students to leave knowing that they have a variety of future options available to them, whether a student chooses a path of higher education or to join the work force,” Reinhardt said. “We also want the students to know that they have a voice and that we all need to advocate for ourselves in order to get what we want and need in this world.”

Students will also listen to a presentation by motivational speaker Tasha Schuh.

When Schuh was 16, she was involved in a theater accident that left her paralyzed from the chest down. In 2007, she began traveling the country to share her story and encourage others to focus on overcoming and persevering regardless of their circumstances.

In 2012, Schuh was named Ms. Wheelchair USA and received the National Rehabilitation Champion Award. She’s also received numerous other recognitions for her work in disability advocacy and support.

“Tasha is a very approachable presenter,” Reinhardt said. “She wants to meet students and engage with them on a personal level.”

This will be Schuh’s second time at the conference.

“She was here four years ago and we thought her message was so important that we invited her back to speak again this year.” Reinhardt said that Schuh’s presentation is one that anyone can benefit from, whether their dealing with a disability, trying to support a loved one or facing other challenges.

Organizers valued Schuh’s message so much that they asked her to make a second presentation that will be open to the community at 7 p.m. in room E188-189 at the Harms Center.

“Tasha’s message of resilience will inspire and will offer hope to people,” said Reinhardt.

Prior to Schuh’s public presentation, there will be a benefits workshop and parents of students with disabilities aged 14-21 and students with disabilities who want to learn about benefits and the workforce are also encouraged to attend.

It will be held in the same room beginning at 5:15 p.m. and is free to attend.

“Teachers and anyone who provides pre-employment transition services to students would also find this workshop helpful,” Reinhardt said.

The workshop will be about 90 minutes long and will focus on disability programs such as SSI. Attendees will learn about available programs, eligibility requirements and the application process.

“Applying for Social Security benefits can be confusing and overwhelming for parents and their children,” she said. “Oftentimes parents are fearful to even begin the process.”

Reinhardt said it is important for students and their families to have a basic understanding of Social Security benefits and how they are affected by work in order to plan for the future.

The workshop is being put on by Goodwill Industries of Greater Nebraska and is funded by Nebraska VR Pre-employment Transition Services.

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Kamie Stephen is a reporter with the Star-Herald. She can be reached at 308-632-9041 or via email at kamie.stephen@starherald.com.

Kamie Stephen is a reporter with the Star-Herald. She can be reached at 308-632-9041 or via email at kamie.stephen@starherald.com.

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