North Dakota Nice: #SayYESS

One of the many reasons it’s great to be a North Dakotan is knowing that you live in a community that cares about you.  Introducing YESS (Youth Empowering Social Status) – a brand-new organization that brings together young people with and without disabilities to build peer relationships and make sure no one is left behind.

YESS was founded by Vicki Laraway of the Dakota Center for Independent Living in Bismarck, and had its first full board meeting in January 2019.  Board President Erin Pasley kindly offered to give us a little insight on what the community is doing to #sayYESS:

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Tell us about YESS.

YESS is for people ages 14 – 24 with and without disabilities. For myself as the president, I know this is a need from my best friend, who has Down Syndrome. The public high schools do a fantastic job providing peer-to-peer programs that partner people with and without disabilities in the classroom (they even have inclusive sports). After high school, however, there aren’t really any peer-to-peer opportunities. YESS aims to fulfill this need for inclusion after high school by getting kids involved at an earlier age to give them community connections for a lifetime.

This is incredibly important to continue a supportive community environment outside of school, and helps youth be an active voice in the community and a positive force. It also helps youth know that they can do anything that they set their mind to. Similar to the Dakota Center for Independent Living – our founder, who are constantly involved with us and empower us to reach for the skies – if you have a goal, we will help you reach it!

I personally became a part of this group as I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia. While others in our group have mental health disabilities, cerebral palsy, spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injury, etc. I have found support from all of them even though our disabilities are very different. They have taught me how to handle accessibility issues I face and we all together counsel each other on daily difficulties.

You just had your first meeting, and you’re already busy.  Tell us what you have going on.

We are getting ready for our first two events: a mocktail mixer (March 23) and a conference (June 20).  We have also spoken with multiple organizations and schools, including Burleigh County Public Health, Legacy High School, and Century High School.

Planning for our MockTail Mixer has been a lot of fun!  It will be our very first event. We will have live music, mocktail drinks, popcorn, board games, visiting with others, and board games! It is March 23 at the Hillside Community Complex in Bismarck from 6:00 – 9:00 pm. We will also be a part of local conferences as vendors sharing our information, including Light It Up Blue (an Autism Awareness event).

What are you hoping to achieve in 2019?

With 2019 being our first year, we aim at having five or more organizations give talks to our board to help us grow as people serving those with disabilities, create a video explaining accessibility issues in the community, attend conferences in North Dakota, host our own conference (which is in the works), continue hosting fun inclusive events, connect with local lawmakers and attend legislative events, and create a community of youth that is supportive and fun.

Over the next five years, we hope to establish a yearly conference, continue hosting inclusive events, encourage independence in the community, and be a voice for youth with disabilities in legislature. Another piece we will always do is encouraging our members to be open about their disabilities and educate the community on them!

Tell us about your board of directors.

Five out of six of us have a disability. We all are unique!  I (Erin Pasley, Board President) am working on achieving my bachelor’s degree from University of Mary in Speech Language Pathology and next year begin their master’s program.  Alyda Blazek (Vice President), who does not have a disability, is a Special Education Major and has a passion for serving others.  Andrea Frohlich (Secretary) is a consumer of DCIL and is a strong member of our team, especially with planning our conference in June.  Bruce Klootwyk (Treasurer) has his master’s degree from University of Mary, is a substitute teacher, and is involved with Dreams in Motion. Dayton Farley (Marketer) is involved with computers in his free time, is a consumer from DCIL, and is also involved with Dreams in Motion. Colin Wetzsteon (Member) is from Hazleton and is a huge North Dakota Bison fan.  You can also catch him skiing with Ski for Light.  We are also occasionally joined by Vicki Laraway, Renee Wetzsteon, Roxanne Romanick, and Kathy Temchack!

What can North Dakota do to support YESS?

North Dakotans can support us by sharing our name, attending our events, getting youth with and without disabilities to our event, and donating to our cause! We often forget that some people with disabilities cannot drive and struggle utilizing public transportation. Getting to our events is essential!

Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?

We exist to prove disabilities don’t define us, and to encourage others that their disabilities don’t define them, either. Our disabilities make us unique and powerful, and we can make a huge difference.

[From Amanda: The topic for the YESS June conference is “Embrace Your Disability.”  If you would like to participate in any of the events, learn more, or just say hello to this amazing group, visit them on Facebook at Youth Empowering Social Status – YESS.  And if you happen to share this story, please be sure to use their official hashtag: #sayYESS !]


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