Forward Annual Conference

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Adam Markel

Keynote Speaker

Bio: Adam Markel is a #1 Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Los Angeles Times, and Publisher’s Weekly bestselling author of Pivot: The Art & Science of Reinventing Your Career and Life. A leading international keynote speaker, Adam has reached tens of thousands worldwide with his message of Resilience as the competitive edge in the face of today’s complex markets. An attorney, entrepreneur, and transformational trainer, Adam is a sought-after business culture catalyst who inspires, empowers, and guides organizations and individuals to create sustainable, high-performance strategies.

Adam is also the CEO of More Love Media and host of The Conscious PIVOT podcast, where he shares his insights on pivoting and resilience in today's fast-paced market and interviews experts, innovators, and influencers in the areas of business and life. Adam credits much of his success to the principles he learned during his 8 years as a Jones Beach lifeguard in New York. As a first responder in a life and death environment, he learned the importance of cultivating a high-performance capacity and impeccable teamwork. He’s found that the principles of this type of culture and leadership equally apply to any business that wants to build a competitive advantage to win. After building a multi-million dollar law firm, Adam pivoted his own career path to become CEO of one of the largest business and personal growth training companies in the world. Here he learned that motivation and inspiration alone are not enough to effectively utilize change; it’s about providing leaders, teams, and audiences with effective takeaways to sustain them over time. Adam’s keynotes, corporate workshops and business mentoring combine his “Lessons from the Lifeguard Stand” with practical business strategies, personal development insights, and a unique delivery style to create a high-energy and impactful learning environment.

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Ryan Niemiller

Keynote Speaker

Bio: You may know Ryan Niemiller as the disarmingly handsome comedian and 3rd place finalist from America's Got Talent Season 14. Despite being born with a disability in both arms, Ryan, the self-proclaimed “Cripple Threat of Comedy”, shares his views of the world from the perspective of the handicapped (and very handsome).  Ryan began his comedy career in Los Angeles, California, and hasn’t looked back since. He's a favorite performer in clubs and colleges across the country. His comedy covers topics such as dating, trying to find employment, and attempting to find acceptance in a world not designed for him. With his quick wit, good looks, great timing, and a gimmick that only he can exploit, Ryan hopes to prove to the comedy world that he may be unarmed, but he is dangerous. And handsome - in case you missed it the first three times.

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Sara Grafstrom


Bio: Sara leads all ARRM’s government affairs and public policy advocacy efforts at both the state and federal level, as well as the leading ARRM staff representative to the Best Life Alliance and the Grassroots Advocacy Network. 

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Chris Duffy

Goff Public

Bio: Chris Duffy is the Vice President of Public Relations at Goff Public, a communications agency in Saint Paul. His company provided communications support for ARRM and the Best Life Alliance in 2019 and 2020. Between journalism and public relations, media has been the focal point of Chris’s career for nearly 15 years. He started his career as a TV reporter in Wisconsin. In his current role, he applies his storytelling expertise to help his clients develop effective communications strategies – and his track record for story placement in the media is unmatched. In his free time, Chris enjoys running, golfing, spending time with his family, and serving on boards of directors for nonprofits he cares deeply about. 

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Johnanna Ganz, PhD

Researcher and Consultant

Bio: Johnanna Ganz, Ph.D., is a highly analytical, data-focused pragmatist. Dr. Ganz looks for opportunities to turn theory and ideas into action. As an independent researcher and consultant, her passions lie in developing individuals and organizations with the goal of increasing the sustainability of mission-driven people and agencies.

During her doctoral research, Johnanna studied occupational and organizational identity development in victim advocates and their agencies using quantitative and qualitative approaches. She has used this research as a foundation to develop tools and trainings that help individuals and organizations improve their work. Throughout the years of working in many mission-driven organizations, Johnanna saw how her research could help so many. Thus, she began her work as an independent consultant, coach, and trainer to support mission-driven staff, leaders, and agencies as they build their skills around healthy occupational identities and organizational cultures. Johnanna approaches every project and relationship with the philosophy of, “Let’s do better, together.”

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Katie Thune

Mad Hatter Wellness

Bio: Katie Thune is an educator, author, and advocate for people with disabilities. She has her Teaching License in Health Education and Special Education K-12 and her MA in Education. She worked as a teacher for Saint Paul Public Schools for 12 years. As the founder and president of Mad Hatter Wellness, she has done extensive curriculum writing and training on relationships and sexuality education.

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Anna Hayek

Mad Hatter Wellness

Bio: Anna Hayek has worked with Mad Hatter Wellness in the areas of wellness and sexual health education since 2016. Anna is a 200 Hour Certified Yoga Teacher, as well as a Certified Yoga Calm Youth Instructor. Additionally, she has taught K-12 ESL and Spanish and has over fifteen years of in-classroom teaching experience with people of all ages and abilities.

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Jason A. Hunt

Eye Squared Leadership

Bio: Jason Hunt makes it easier for people to like and follow their leaders. He is the founder and CEO of Eye Squared Leadership and he has had the pleasure of working with companies large and small. Jason's first major leadership role was to run a branch of 100 church members in outer Siberia when he was 19. Since then, he has served in a number of leadership positions, including principal of a school. He has a master’s degree in leadership, is certified by the John Maxwell Leadership Institute, and is the author of The Other Side: 5 Rules for Leading with Influence. Jason lives in Owatonna, Minnesota with his wife and four kids

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Paige LaSota

Mad Hatter Wellness

Bio: Paige LaSota has been with Mad Hatter Wellness since 2019, developing and delivering education about healthy relationships and sexual health. She earned her B.S. in Disability Studies at the University of Minnesota and has several years of experience within the community, ranging from home-based care to special education and employment services.

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Tina VanSteenbergen


Bio: Tina has been speaking professionally since 2013 with a fairly simple message: women need women. To be successful in the workplace. To feel understood. To feel less alone in the world… women need women. And that’s the message she flies thousands of miles to spread. Her speaking style gives women permission to open up, have honest conversations, and connect. With a combination of authenticity, storytelling, and humor, she’s been able to help hundreds of thousands of women tear down the walls we’ve built between us. Together with her audience, she helps women build relationships with one another, believe in themselves, and take up space at companies, campuses, and organizations. Her work sets her soul on fire. So does a good nap. An excellent pour of bourbon. A beautiful snow. A peaceful and reflective sunset flight. A well-written West Wing quote. Her husband, her son, her dog, and a Minnesotan accent, of course.

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Betsy Gadbois

Star Services

Bio: Betsy has been working in the field of developmental disabilities for over 40 years. She is a certified for Person-Centered Thinking and Person-Centered Planning and one of five Person-Centered Thinking mentors in Minnesota. Betsy integrates her motto “together we’re better” into all her trainings and plans, emphasizing ways to help people have positive control over lives that are meaningful to them. This starts with goals or “outcomes” that people choose for themselves. 

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ACT Center for Disability Leadership

Bio: ACT Center for Disability Leadership is a grassroots disability rights organization run by and for people with developmental and other disabilities. ACT empowers groups of people with disabilities to take control over their lives while also working to break down barriers that prevent the larger disability community from living, working, and playing side-by-side with everyone else. Since 1979, ACT has been creating leaders in the self-advocacy movement, supporting people with disabilities to stand up for their rights and the rights of others.