By ROBERT PIERCE
• Daily Leader
Ed Poley recently contacted health fair coordinators Elizabeth Irby and Nancy Kletecka about having part of the event centered around those who serve their country.
Irby and Kletecka were excited to bring veterans on board with this year’s fair, and Poley, the director of Liberal’s Whirlwind Career Counseling for Veterans, First Responders and Their Families, said the health fair needed to have a broader scope than just...well, health.
For this reason, the name of this year’s fair has been changed from Fall Into Health to the Community and Veteran Health, Job and Education Fair, and Poley said his group has encouraged as many different employers as possible to have booths at the fair.
“What they’re going to do is just give out job applications,” he said.
Poley said employers will not take the applications and do interviews at the fair, however. He said employers invited to the fair have included the City of Liberal and USD No. 480.
“As far as education is concerned, we wanted to have as many colleges in the area come and participate,” he said. “Fall enrollment starts Nov. 1. At this point, we only have two or three. Seward County will be there. I believe that Newman University is going to be there. The last we heard, OPSU was planning to be there.”
Poley said he had talked with the Whirlwind board about doing a fair specifically for veterans.
“I’ve never been involved in a deal like this before,” he said. “I’m glad that we did not strike out on our own to try to do this. It is a huge operation. We have about 80 vendors coming from all over this part of the world. The object, from our perspective, is for the veterans to be aware that there are people in our community that are going to help.”
Officials from Kansas Works will also be at the fair at the Activity Center, and Poley said the setting for the job fair will be quite informal.
“It’s an opportunity for people in a very relaxed atmosphere to see what might be available to assist them in reintegrating into society,” he said.
Another major activity taking place throughout the day is a luncheon for veterans from noon to 1 Saturday in the Ag Building.
“It’s free for veterans, $8 for anybody else to attend,” Poley said. “We have a speaker coming to us out of Wichita. She’s going to talk for a few minutes on reintegration into our society. That’s what she does at the vet center in Wichita.”
Whirlwind hosted a ceremony for veterans following the Liberal Bee Jays’ Fourth of July game. A video was scheduled to be shown with that program, but due to weather, it was not. Poley said it will be shown Saturday during the meal.
“The dinner itself will be in the Ag Building,” he said. “It’ll be from 12 o’clock to 1 o’clock.”
Poley said the whole object of getting veterans involved is about service – to the community.
“From Whirlwind’s perspective, the veterans know there are a lot of people and a lot of organizations and a lot of groups in our area that are reaching out to help,” he said. “We want to make that as available to people as we can, and we want to encourage other educational entities or employers to come.”
Poley said this is the first time something like this has been attempted.
“The biggest we’d ever tried to do before this was Fourth of July,” he said. “I thought that was a really great day where we were able to say thank you to our Vietnam veterans particularly and to recognize all veterans. It’s just an opportunity to say particularly to our younger veterans that we’re glad you’re here, we thank you for your service, and whatever we can do to help to help make your life better, we’re here to do that. There’s no charge to veterans whatsoever. Our services here are free.”
Poley said many times when government tries to help, many are tempted to run in the opposite direction – as fast as they can, he joked. He said this is not the case with Whirlwind.
“We really truly are here to help, and anything that we can to do to be of assistance is what we’re trying to do,” he said. “It’s not just the veterans that we need to be concerned about.”
Poley said while this is certainly the main focus of Whirlwind, there are other people in the community with problems, and if the agency can be of service to them as well, that is what it is there for.
“Our main emphasis is veterans, first responders and their families, and too often, I think we forget about their families,” he said.
Poley said he feels, however, that Whirlwind’s supply currently outweighs its demand in terms of the services it provides.
“I think there are more people out there who could benefit from what we could help them with than are seeking our help,” he said. “Part of the reason that we’re doing all of this is just to get our name out in public, to let people know that we are here and why we’re here and what we’re doing it for.”
Poley said Whirlwind is not in business to make money off of veterans.
“This is a service that we’re providing here locally, paid for through local grants and the generosity of our community to help veterans,” he said. “Nobody’s out to make any money off the veterans. We’re truly here to be a service organization – truly a non-profit group of people who are dedicated to try to make things better for kids.”
The Community and Veteran Health Job and Education Fair will take place from 7 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Saturday at the Seward County Fairgrounds.