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2023 Speakers

Damon West
Keynote Speaker
Damon West
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Sentenced to sixty-five years in a Texas prison, Damon West once had it all.

Damon West, M.S. Criminal Justice, is a former adjunct college professor, internationally known keynote speaker and Wall Street Journal best-selling author of The Coffee Bean: A simple Lesson to Create Positive Change, which Forbes’ listed in the “Top Twenty Books You Need to Read to Crush 2020.”

His autobiography, The Change Agent: How a Former College QB Sentenced to Life in PrisonTransformed His Life, vividly tells how he transformed the pot of boiling water that is a Texas maximum-security prison into a pot of coffee.

At 20 years old, he was a Division I starting quarterback at the University of North Texas, when he suffered a career ending injury. He turned to hard core drugs to cope with disappointments of life. After graduation, he worked in the United States Congress, was a national fundraiser on a U.S. Presidential campaign and eventually trained to be a stock-broker for United Bank of Switzerland (UBS). One day at UBS, he was introduced to methamphetamines; he became instantly hooked—and the lives of so many innocent people would forever be changed by the choices he made in order to feed his insatiable meth habit.

After a fateful discussion during his incarceration with a seasoned convict, Damon had a spiritual awakening. He learned that, like a coffee bean changing with the application of heat and pressure, he was capable of changing the environment around him. Armed with a program of recovery, a renewed faith, and a miraculous second chance at life, Damon emerged from over seven years of prison a changed man. His story of redemption, grit and determination continues to inspire audiences today.

The Coffee Bean message has inspired thousands. Damon’s clients include such companiesas Walmart, AIG, Chick-fil-A, Southwest Airlines, and sports teams like the Dallas Cowboys,Minnesota Timberwolves, Clemson, Alabama and Georgia. The U.S. Army has evenincorporated the #BeACoffeeBean mindset into their resilience training. Damon’s story hasbeen featured both nationally and globally.

He is passionate about the Coffee Bean message and loves sharing how it changed his lifeand how it can change yours, too.

His Wall Street Journal bestselling book, The Locker Room: How Great Teams Heal Hurt, Overcome Adversity and Build Unity, is being optioned for film adaptation. His children’s book, The Coffee Bean for Kids, is the genesis for Coffee Bean Clubs being started by students at schools all over America.

His most recent book, How to be a Coffee Bean: 111 Life-Changing Ways to Create PositiveChange, co-authored with Jon Gordon was also an instant Wall Street Journal Best-seller. 

Today, Damon lives a life of recovery and service, sharing his story all over the world. Of all the hats Damon wears, however, the two most important to him are being a husband to Kendell and a stepfather to Clara.

Marvin Whitfield
Keynote Speaker
Dr. Marvin Whitfield
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Dr. Marvin Whitfield is the Founder of the Blue Force Mobile Training Team and serves local communities as the CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwestern Ohio. Before moving to the private sector, he served as a Senior Instructor on a Department of Defense contract. He designed and conducted numerous training missions for the United States Army Intelligence Center of Excellence Training Division.


His previous work experience included more than three decades of law enforcement, where he obtained the rank of Police Commander. His educational background consists of a Doctor of Philosophy degree in Criminal Justice, a Master's degree in Criminal Justice Administration, a Master of Business Administration specializing in Human Resource Management, and a Psychology of Leadership certificate.


Whitfield has conducted numerous trainings for the private/public sector and higher academic organizations. He continues to conduct research in the areas of cultural competency and leadership development. His skill level as a subject matter expert is maintained by attending lectures, seminars, and advanced training. He serves as an Instructor & Coach for the State of Ohio Child Welfare Training Program, a Trainer for the Ohio Human Service Training System, and a Basic Life Support Instructor for the American Heart Association.


Dr. Whitfield serves his community as a Rotarian, a member of the Toledo Exchange Club, Perrysburg Coalition for Inclusion & Social Justice, and a Special Deputy with the Wood County Sheriff's Office. Whitfield sits on several committees promoting social equality, trauma-informed care, and youth resilience.

McKenna Reitz
Keynote Speaker
McKenna Reitz
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McKenna Reitz is a sought-after TEDx speaker, an award-winning high school AP Psychology teacher, and an alopecia warrior who empowers others to reframe life’s challenges into gifts and opportunities so they can lead with confidence and purpose.


After losing all her hair due to Alopecia, McKenna uses her journey of having this autoimmune disease to help others overcome the loss by resetting the mindset of their “loss” into growth and opportunities.


She is an inspirational force, helping world-class teams succeed, time and again, in the face of great challenges and change. McKenna has been featured in Forbes, Woman’s Day, USA Today, Yahoo! News, U.S. News & World Report, Good Housekeeping, Business Insider, VeryWell,  MindBodyGreen and featured on Good Morning America, The Jennifer Hudson Show,  Good Day DC, Good Morning Washington, theList, and Cheddar News.

Breakout Speakers

Breakout Speakers
Allison Armstrong
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Serving as an active member of Toledo Fire and Rescue Department since July 2000, Fire Chief Allison Armstrong held several leadership positions throughout Toledo’s department prior to her appointment as Fire Chief in February, 2022. Chief Armstrong has worked as a Lieutenant, Captain, and Battalion Chief while in both line operations and the EMS Bureau. She was House Captain of Fire Station 17, located at 1043 W. Central Avenue for 5 years.


Chief Armstrong holds certifications as a State of Ohio Certified Fire Safety Inspector, Fire Instructor and NFPA 1403 Live Fire Instructor. Chief Armstrong earned her E.M.T. Paramedic Certification from the University of Toledo, an Associates in Nursing from Owens Community College, a Bachelor of Nursing from Mercy College, and a Masters of Health Informatics from University of Cincinnati.

Chief Armstrong also served for ten years as a member of the federally deployable Ohio-1 Disaster Medical Assistance Team based out of Toledo, Ohio providing medical treatment to those affected by disasters. Chief Armstrong serves as the President of the Regional Council of Governments Lucas County 911 and a member of the Toledo Firefighters Museum Board as well as a member of the Toledo Fire and Rescue Foundation board.


Chief Armstrong is married with a 15-year-old son. In her spare time, she enjoys traveling and playing ice hockey.

Dr. Debra Ball
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Dr. Debra Ball is currently the Director of People & Talent at the Toledo Museum of Art (TMA), serving the city’s great cultural heritage organization to aspire to, and embrace holistically the mission of integrating art into the lives of people through quality and belonging, with the core values of community, innovation, diversity, and trust.  Before TMA, she was honored to serve the healthcare sector for over 27 years in various leadership positions. In her most recent post as the SVP & Chief HR Officer at Aspirus Health in Wisconsin, she advanced strategic talent management, leading the people operations team and change management initiatives post-acquisition for four Wisconsin’s Ascension hospital and clinics growing Aspirus Health, the rural healthcare organization to over $3 billion.  

Over the years, Deb has served in senior leadership positions at St. Luke’s Hospital, ProMedica, Cleveland Clinic and Mercy Health.  As an early HR careerist, Deb worked for 8 years at The Andersons, Inc., working in the Grain Division of the agribusiness.  Deb has had the privilege and honor to have worked for numerous transformational servant-leader CEO’s including Richard P. Anderson, Jack Bartell, Randy Oostra, Dr. Delos Cosgrove, Dr. Tom Mihaljevic, Bob Baxter, and presently, Dr. Adam Levine.

Dr. Ball received her doctorate in education at Bowling Green State University, writing her dissertation on the nurse leader experience: before, during and after merger.  She holds a Master of Science and Education in public health from the University of Toledo. Debra is a certified senior professional in human resources. Dr. Ball has collaborated with several local, state, and national thought leaders on leadership and organization development research, she has published articles, and presented at numerous national conferences. In 2022, Bowling Green State University, College of Education & Human Development’s School of Leadership Studies & Policy honored Deb with an Innovative-Global Influence Award as a MAEQRA Innovator.   

Deb has lived and worked in Ohio, Wisconsin, and traveled globally while working with Cleveland Clinic, and has seen first-hand how continuous learning in a diverse and inclusive environment leads not only to greater employee engagement, but also amplifies personal and professional resilience, compassion, and well-being.  Deb is married to a luthier (violin guy) Edward, and they have two grown daughters and two sons, Nathan a senior at Indiana University playing big ten baseball for the Hoosiers (left-handed pitcher reliever/closer) and Dylan a men’s track/field athlete (400m and 4x400m), avid hiker and proficient musician, who tragically passed away in January 2022. 

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Mike Bell

Mike is the former Mayor of Toledo 2010-2013, former State Fire Marshall - State of Ohio, former Toledo Fire Chief and first African American, as well as the youngest person ever to lead the department. He has served multiple community-related civic organizations, volunteering his time and serving on such boards as the Boys & Girls Club, Red Cross, American Cancer Society, Boy Scouts of America, and Salvation Army just to mention a few.

Bryan Blair
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Since his arrival as vice president and director of athletics at The University of Toledo, Bryan B. Blair has begun a process of engaging the University and the Toledo community with the goal of positioning the Rockets as one of the premier Group of Five programs in the country. Blair, who became the 14th athletic director in the history of the University of Toledo, is the first African-American to hold the post.


When he arrived at Toledo in May of 2022, he was just 37 years old, the youngest FBS athletic director in the nation at the time. He joined the Rockets after serving as the deputy athletic director and chief operating officer at Washington State University from 2018-22. Among the initiatives that have begun under Blair’s leadership is the founding of the 1923 Society, a philanthropic initiative designed for the purpose of generating new revenues to support Rocket student-athletes in their academic, athletic and personal pursuits.


The Rockets have enjoyed unprecedented athletic and academic success in Blair’s first season on the job. Toledo won MAC Championships in football, men’s basketball, women’s basketball, women’s cross country, men’s tennis and women’s tennis, the first school in the history of the NCAA-FBS to win league titles in those six sports in a single season. The football team went on to win the Boca Raton Bowl, becoming the first Rocket team to win a MAC title and a bowl game in 21 years. Women’s Basketball defeated No. 5 seed and Big 12 champion Iowa State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, the Rockets first win in the NCAAs in 27 years. Toledo was awarded the Reese Trophy as the top men’s athletic program in the Mid-American Conference for the second consecutive year, and set a school record with 166 points in the Learfield Directors’ Cup Division I standings. Rocket fans supported their teams in droves, as Toledo led the MAC in home attendance in football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball, the first school in league history to achieve this feat. In the classroom, the Rockets had the best academic year in school history, setting a record with a 3.401 grade point average in the fall semester, then topping that with 3.472 GPA in the spring.


A rising star in intercollegiate athletics, Blair was selected to serve on the National Sports Forum’s Steering Committee and the Board of Directors for the Minority Opportunities Athletic Association. In 2016, Blair was chosen for the nationally acclaimed D1A Institute (now “LEAD1”). The goal of the institute is to help the participants, nominated by their universities’ athletics directors, be better prepared to move into the role of athletics director. After the Institute, Blair was recognized by LEAD1 President and CEO, Tom McMillen, as a “Future Leader of College Sports.” Blair was selected among 25 senior-level administrators from across the country to participate in the prestigious 2017 NCAA Pathway Program. The program is designed to elevate those currently in senior-level positions within athletics administration to the next step in reaching their goal of becoming directors of athletics. The year-long program is an intensive, experiential learning opportunity for selected participants representing NCAA Divisions I, II and III.


Blair holds a law degree from the University of South Carolina and earned his undergraduate degree in history at Wofford College. He played four seasons as a nose tackle for the Wofford football team from 2003-06. He was a team captain as a senior in 2006 and was named the team’s Defensive Lineman of the Year.


Blair and his wife, Jenna, have two children, Brielle (5) and Beau (2). 

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Dasa Dzierwa

Dasa Dzierwa serves as Associate Vice President of the ProMedica Foundation where she leads a dynamic team in helping to raise millions in philanthropic support for 11 hospitals in the ProMedica Healthcare System footprint.


She is a 1996 graduate of Lourdes University. After spending nearly a decade in a classroom as a teacher, Dasa made an intentional career shift into community relations, and subsequently into nonprofit development and leadership.


She is passionate about connecting people and their stories, engaging communities, and creating donor-enabled change for good.


Dasa and her husband, Matt, reside in Haskins, Ohio and have three grown children—Madison (23), Noah (21), and Joseph (19).

Ann Ebbert
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Ann Ebbert has dedicated the last eight years of her 30 plus years of business and ministry career to walking alongside the guests at Cherry Street Mission Ministries on their journey to become a contributing members of the community. 


In her role as CEO/President, she and her team operate a 24/365 care facility for hundreds who are hungry for change. Her leadership development and mentorship skills are at the heart of the many success stories that happen at Cherry Street every day.


One of her guiding leadership principles is from Micah 6:8 “No, O people, the LORD has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”

Originally from Bryan, Ohio, Ann has lived in this region all her adult life. She and her husband of 35 years, Scott, are dog parents to Monty, a Havanese. Scott and Ann enjoy outdoor activities 

To connect with Ann for a tour, or if you want more information, please contact Cherry Street Mission Ministries at or 419.214.3007

Derick Gant
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Derick is an Author, Speaker, Financial Expert, and Performance Coach with over 30 years of entrepreneurial experience. In 2019, he published The 24K Life Code: The Only Difference Between Mediocrity and Greatness. This book guides others step-by-step to achieve their best and get the results they seek.


In addition to his two companies, Gant Group, and The Studio NWO, Derick leads 24K Life. 24K Life is a community that provides high achievers and entrepreneurs with solutions and strategies to help them raise their standards. The communities goal is to help members deliver their best by eliminating limiting beliefs and habits that hold them back. We hope to create lifestyles that include mastery in all areas and empower them to become the best version of themselves.


As an expert coach and fitness professional, Derick takes complicated concepts and delivers them in understandable terms. His well-known mantra, “Master your mind, and you will always be free,” has enabled him to achieve mental, physical, and financial abundance in his own life.


Derick has been on CBS, NBC, ABC, and Fox News and has delivered two TEDx Talks sharing his tips with millions of people on making money, growing, and keeping it. Through his programs, books, and videos, Derick empowers others to break through barriers to have a bigger vision for themselves and live out their destiny.

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Matt Knaggs

Matt Knaggs graduated from St. Francis de Sales in 2002.  While there, he performed in musicals and choir, and was also the school mascot his senior year. 


He has a bachelor's degree in Spanish and International Business from the University of Toledo, and a Masters in Business Administration from Bowling Green State University.  Matt is currently a Regional Sales Director for Zilliant, and has held several leadership roles in a variety of fields throughout his 20 year career. He has also taught a class that focuses on leadership and public speaking for 12 years. 


He and his wife Amber have three children and live in Perrysburg, OH.

Neil Neukam

Neil Neukam is the general manager/EVP of the Toledo Walleye and is also entering his 31st season with the Toledo Mud Hens Baseball Club, where he spent 17 seasons as Assistant General Manager focusing on Corporate Partnerships.  As Vice President and General Manager of the Walleye, Neil’s primary focus is on overseeing and managing the revenue budget for the organization. 


Previously, he worked for the Toledo Storm Hockey Club during their 1991 inaugural season and also Raceway Park, Toledo’s former harness racing facility. He received his Bachelor of Science degree in Interdisciplinary Studies from the University of Toledo and is a graduate of Libbey High School.


He has volunteered on committees in the past to include the Mid-American Conference basketball tournament, Junior Achievement, CitiFest, YMCA, The Epilepsy Center of NW Ohio, The Arthritis Foundation of NW Ohio, The Advertising Club of Toledo, Ohio D.E.C.A. judge, Davis College Advisory Committee Member & Member of the Sport & Recreation Academic Advisory Council at Tiffin University.  He’s also a member of the Toledo Rotary and a board member of the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce.  Neil also has been honored by being recognized as the ECHL Executive of the Year on two different occasions.


Originally from Hicksville, Ohio, Neil currently resides in South Toledo.

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Brad Rieger

Brad Rieger is the chief executive officer at Cooper-Smith, a full-service marketing and advertising agency specializing in media planning, media buying, data analytics and branding. He also serves as the host of the leadership-based podcast, In the Arena – Conversations of a Lifetime. Prior to joining Cooper-Smith, Brad had a meaningful 31-year career in education. He served in a multitude of roles including special education teacher, principal, assistant superintendent and for the last 12 years of his educational run, superintendent of Sylvania Schools (2003-2015).

Matthew Zmuda
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Matthew Zmuda (SFS ‘13) is a Major League Baseball scout with the Detroit Tigers.  Zmuda has worked as an area scout in the Mid-Atlantic and Ohio Valley regions, evaluating and projecting on players in high schools and colleges across the regions.  With eyes and ears on the ground, Matthew works in tandem with the front office to find the top talent for the Tigers to draft.  Beyond the evaluation of baseball skills and tools, Zmuda’s subjective evaluations of a player’s character and the relationships built with players, families, coaches and advisors add value to draft day decision making.


In his 6 years with the Detroit Tigers organization, Zmuda has signed 14 players to professional contracts. The most notable of those players, and the first to make it to “The Show”, is Detroit Tigers starting outfielder Kerry Carpenter.


Matthew earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Denison University where he played 4 years on the Big Red baseball team. He currently resides in Perrysburg with his wife Caitlin (NDA ‘12)

Clint Longenecker
Master of Ceremonies
Clint Longenecker, Ph.D.

Clinton Oliver Longenecker, Ph.D., an award-winning educator, is one of “America’s leaders in creating high performance leaders and organizations” and is a Distinguished University Professor of Leadership Excellence Emeritus of The College of Business and Innovation at The University of Toledo.


His teaching, research and consulting interests are in high performance leadership and creating great organizations. He has been the recipient of over sixty (60) outstanding teaching, service and research awards and numerous industry awards including the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year, Toastmasters International Leadership Award, The Jefferson Award for Outstanding Public Service,  and numerous “Best Professor” recognitions. In addition, he has also been recently recognized by The Economist as one of the Top Fifteen Business Professors in the World. In 2017, Clint was recognized as one of the top three University Professors in the USA as a Finalist for Baylor University’s Robert Foster Cherry Award for Great Teaching and as one of the top thirty (30) “transformational leaders” in America by The John Maxwell Organization.

He has published over 200 articles and papers in leading academic and professional journals including the Sloan Management Review, Industrial Management, Business Horizons, European Business Review, and Organizational Dynamics among others. He is a frequent media source and his research has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Investor’s Business Daily, MSNBC, NPR, and a wide variety of media outlets. Clint is also a critically acclaimed professor in The Great Courses Critical Business Skills Series – Organizational Behavior Course released in 2015. His newest book, The Successful Career Survival Guide is a chronicle of best practices and key research findings designed to help readers improve their personal effectiveness and career trajectory. He is also the co-author of two best-selling leadership books, Getting Results: Five Absolutes for High Performance and Two-Minute Drill: Lessons for Rapid Organizational Improvement from America’s Greatest Game.

Clint is an active management consultant, educator, and executive coach whose clients include a wide variety of Fortune 500 firms and entrepreneurial organizations including: Harley-Davidson, ConAgra, SSOE, ProMedica Health Systems, Whirlpool, Eaton Corporation, Cooper Tire, Dana Corporation, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and O-I Inc. among others. Clint has been described by Career Publications as, “one of the top motivational speakers in the U.S. who can blend cutting edge research, common sense, humor and conviction into a real and inspiring call for better performance that can help us all!”


Dr. Longenecker has also served as a Visiting Lecturer at the University of the West Indies Barbados and has also lectured extensively in Poland, Hungary, and Russia. He holds a B.B.A. in marketing, an M.B.A. in management, both from the University of Toledo, and a Ph.D. in management from The Pennsylvania State University.

Clint is an active community servant, a committed member of the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church, and an active Bible study leader and Christian speaker. He has spent extensive time working in the country of Haiti managing missionary school and hospital construction projects. Clint is very happily married to the former Cindy Breese, and they have three children: Clinton Charles, Shannon Marie, and Stephen Lorenzo.

For more information about GSLS 2023, Click Here.

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