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MSU Profiles

Teen Night Out inspires students of all ages

What started as Minot State University students gaining firsthand experience working with individuals with special needs has blossomed into friendships and an experience that will impact all for years to come.

"Judy Garber (Teen Night Out co-organizer) came to speak with our school psychology class about Teen Night Out a couple years ago," said Kylie Klassen, MSU graduate student. "A group of us went to see what it was all about, and I couldn't stop going! I've been going for nearly two years, twice a month since."

Teen Night Out started in 2003 in a rural community in North Dakota. It is an opportunity for teens with learning or developmental disabilities to socialize, have fun with their peers outside of the school environment, as well as a chance for parents to connect and learn from program leaders and each other. The program welcomes and needs volunteers to exist, so Garber and Diana Auch, co-organizers, reached out to MSU and rallied students from classes such school psychology and special education to help.

"Rhonda Weathers (North Dakota Center for Persons with Disabilities research associate) is making a pilot program for self-advocacy skills," said MSU sophomore Allie Houston. "She provides a lesson, we learn it and teach the lesson to the students at Teen Night Out. We get to teach a variety of self-advocacy skills to the individuals."

"The program is really awesome for those who will be working with individuals with special needs," said Klassen. "You get to work with people with a wide range of disabilities and ages. So especially in our professions, the more experience we can get, the better."

With Teen Night Out, all involved learn numerous skills, foster relationships and have fun. Twice a month, approximately 30 to 40 individuals with special needs from Minot and communities near and far and 30 to 40 support staff, get together for a meal and activity. One of the most popular activities that all look forward to every year is prom.

"It is such a blast," said Klassen. "They get to dress up and go through grand march, we provide a meal, and it's just so much fun. It's nice for them to have time away from their parents. They are teens, and they need that social interaction and independence."

"Some have dates and some go as individuals," added Houston "It's so much fun and really a comfortable environment for everybody. Regular prom can be overwhelming, and this is a comfortable place."

Other larger annual events include a trip to the zoo, and a Christmas party, where the students get to choose a gift to give to their parents, guardians, brothers or sisters, and volunteers and leaders help them wrap the gifts.

"This may have started as something we had to do as a requirement for a class," said Houston, "but now it's something we all want to do! Once you get in, you don't want to leave. I didn't know about this until it was brought up in my class, and it is so important to get the word out."

"It's really a great way for special education and psychology students to get out and experience what we will be doing in our respective careers," said Klassen. "So while we are doing this for the kids, we are also practicing our skills. It's all around just a great experience, it's awesome."