Senior veterans, age 55 and older, who are suffering from vision or hearing loss, their families and their providers are invited to a free workshop from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 18 at Sternberg Museum of Natural History, 3000 Sternberg Drive.

The “Confident Living” workshop will offer coping strategies and techniques for independence. Free vision and hearing screenings will be available from 8 to 10 a.m., and lunch will be provided.

Pre-registration deadline is Monday, and only 50 slots are available, said Kendall Krug, a Hays optometrist who will do the vision screenings. Walk-ins will be accepted if there is room.

Veterans may pre-register by calling Krug at 785-625-3937 or emailing him at kkrug@krugoptometry.net or by calling Jim Huenergarde with the Hays Lions Club at 785-650-7338 or emailing hayslion@ruraltel.net.

The workshop is a collaborative effort of many groups. Graduate teaching assistants in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Fort Hays State University will be doing the hearing screenings. Workshop sessions will be presented by representatives from the Robert J. Dole Veterans Medical Center in Wichita, the Helen Keller National Center and the Hays Area Agency on Aging.

Bob Hamilton, visually impaired service coordinator at the Dole Center, said, “It’s a lot of people coming together to help their community.”

Huenergarde, of Liebenthal, has been a member of the Hays Lions Club for 24 years and is currently serving as its second vice president. He said the mission of the workshop is two-fold.

“We want to identify people who have these needs and then show them the services available to them in Wichita," he said. "Many veterans don’t know what services are out there to help them.”

For example, he said, many senior veterans may not have transportation to travel to the VA hospital in Wichita, which is the nearest VA facility offering vision and hearing services.

But volunteers are available to drive veterans and their families to Wichita for appointments. Knowing who these volunteers are is a valuable piece of information and just one of the resources that will be discussed at the workshop, he said.

Workshop topics will also cover living with combined vision and hearing loss, alternate techniques for independence, self-advocacy and planning, and the assistive technologies and equipment available.

Huenergarde said previous workshops have been held in Salina and Hutchinson, but this will be the first workshop of its kind in Hays.

Krug said the idea for this type of workshop originated with the chaplaincy office at the VA hospital in Wichita. The Hays Lions Club then received a $3,500 grant from the Heartland Community Foundation to fund a workshop in Hays. That amount was bumped up to $4,000 with another donation from a private donor.

In doing research for the grant, Huenergarde said the Lions Club discovered, through census data, that there were 1,597 veterans living in Ellis County in 2017. Of those, only eight identified with low vision and hearing loss were currently receiving services at the Dole VA Medical Center in Wichita.

“If we have this number of veterans in Ellis County, think how many we have in all of western Kansas,” Huenergarde said.

Organizers are wanting participants to pre-register so that those needing large print materials, handouts in Braille, a sign language interpreter, or who have special dietary needs can be accommodated.

The screenings will be done in a specially equipped 32-foot trailer provided by the Kansas Lions Sight Foundation. Fred Britten, a professor of communication sciences and disorders at FHSU for the past 44 years, praised the mobile unit, saying the trailer was built to control for “environmental noise.”

This means the hearing screening a veteran will receive at the workshop will be much more accurate than a screening done at a noisy mall or an outdoor festival, Britten said.

Two of his graduate assistants, Mollie Reves, of Olathe, and Tanner Staab, of Hays, were selected to do the hearing screenings, because both will graduate in May with master's degrees in speech-language pathology, Britten said. Both students have previous experience screening children at area schools and working with adults in the Herndon Speech-Language Hearing Clinic on campus.

Both students said they hope to work in a medical clinic setting after graduation.

“Community service fits into the mission and goals of our department. Plus, it gives our students valuable experience,” Britten said.

In addition, students in the FHSU chapter of the National Student Speech-Language, Hearing Association and in the Leadership Studies Department on campus will be on hand at the workshop as greeters and providing special assistance to workshop participants who need it.

Krug said a veteran does not have to already be in the VA system to attend the workshop and take advantage of the resources available.

“We’re trying to provide services to these veterans with hearing and vision needs who have served their country, and it is taking all of us in the community to do that. That’s what community is all about.”