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Newsroom Governor Celebrates Vocational Rehabilitation Counselors

TOPEKA - Recognizing the career potential of people with disabilities and affirming the importance of work in the psychological well-being of such individuals, Governor Sam Brownback highlighted today the work of vocational rehabilitation counselors.

Governor Sam Brownback met with several vocational rehabilitation counselors employed by the Kansas Department for Children and Families (DCF) at the Statehouse this morning, to thank them for their service and to learn more about the accomplishments of DCF’s Vocational Rehabilitation division. The Governor signed a proclamation to designate March as Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor Appreciation Month. 

DCF’s VR director, Michael Donnelly, shared some of the successes of the agency with the Governor, stating that the agency helped 7,837 Kansans with disabilities become employed in the past five fiscal years. He said many of these clients are now filling positions in high-demand jobs, such as registered nurses, accountants, teachers and software developers. The Governor noted the value these employees.

“Our vocational rehabilitation counselors invest their time and energy in helping Kansans with disabilities realize their potential,” Governor Brownback said. “Thanks to the hard work of our counselors and clients, people are getting jobs and achieving their dreams.”

During his administration, Governor Brownback has stressed self-reliance and the benefits of work. He thanked the counselors in attendance for their role in empowering Kansans with disabilities to achieve and maintain employment. 

“We work with people with a wide-variety of obstacles to employment,” said Jeanette Suther, a vocational rehabilitation counselor in Hutchinson. “Whether it’s physical, emotional, psychological, we help them to recognize their abilities, their capabilities, their strengths and their interests. Then we help them find the right environment to maximize their employment.”

Suther said she may work with a client for just a few months, or for several years. Sometimes clients have success in a career field and then return for help in a different position. She estimated that in her 21 years with DCF (formerly Social Rehabilitative Services), she has assisted more than 3,000 individuals in their journey to self-reliance and career advancement.

DCF employs 65 counselors who provided services for 12,114 Kansans in State Fiscal Year 2015. Donnelly can personally attest to the impact of vocational rehabilitation services.

“When I was finishing up high school, I loved carpentry, particularly cabinet making, and I was about to go into work as a builder,” said Donnelly. “But I broke my back in a swimming accident, and that ended my chance to work in that field. But fortunately a rehab counselor came along and said ‘now while you can’t go exactly in that direction, there are still many things you can do.’ And that person helped me to develop new skills and learn how to work in different environments than I had prepared for.”

(Left to right: Mike Donnelly, Donald Crouse, Marilyn Kirby, Jeanette Suther, Steven Smith, Governor Sam Brownback, Julia Luechtefeld, Nathalie Weissman, Elizabeth Van Vleck, Jamey Hancock, Rick Dorough, Betty Phillips)​