From the moment the night begins, the chatter starts. People are animated and the energy level is high. People are greeting each other, catching up on news, sharing summer plans, complimenting each other on their hair ribbons and pretty jewelry, one person's newly shaved moustache, another person's nice new shirt.
You hear laughter, lots of laughter, at the fun night for people with disabilities.
Fun nights have been coordinated monthly since December 2007 by Patti Coe, case manager at Northern Lakes Community Mental Health, and Mary Kleinert, instructor at COOR Intermediate School District's Adult Transition Program.The women started the group to provide social opportunities for the people they serve and thirty to forty people consistently attend. Community volunteers lend a hand with set up, transportation, and purchasing snacks to provide extra help.
"Everyone really looks forward to getting together at these fun nights. Some of the people who come live in group homes, some with their families, and some in their own homes, but most do not have a lot of opportunity to socialize with friends," Coe said. "I know for one of the women here, this is the only time she gets to do something fun outside of her house all month," she added.
Sometimes they plan a movie night. Other times the group plays bingo, has a picnic, or makes crafts. The most popular, however, are the dances.
"Everyone loves the dances, and some wish we could have a dance every month," Coe said.
At the dances, Kleinert's husband, Keith, serves as D.J., and brings his big speakers, lights, and disco balls. People attending help with decorations, and they dress up and have a great time.
"Everyone dances," Coe said. "You don't see anyone standing around the edges like at your typical high school dance. Everyone gets involved."
Renee Deman, who is Joey Briggs' guardian, agreed.
"I went to Goodwill and bought Joey his first three-piece suit. I dressed up in a glittery dress. We had a great time!' Deman said."These fun nights are very important to Joey. He wants me to come and I enjoy being here," Deman said.
Deman's daughter, Natalie, and Coe's son, Sean, both of whom attend Immanuel Christian School in Roscommon, and Coe’s daughter Mollie, a student at Grayling High School, all attend fun nights regularly to help out.
Giles Miller, who recently moved to Grayling from Seattle and attends Grayling High School, has selected the fun nights as one way to fulfill his community service commitments for school. Andrea Ronde and her daughter, Haley, also volunteer at the fun nights on a regular basis. Haley is considering designing her senior project at Roscommon High School around the fun night events.
"I have gotten to know a lot of people by going to the fun nights," Haley said. "I enjoy helping out a lot."
In addition to the high school students and a few guardians, others from the community lend a hand from time to time, including staff from R.O.O.C. Inc., a nonprofit employment and skill training organization for people with disabilities, which is governed by the C.O.O.R. Intermediate School District's Board of Education.
The City of Grayling has provided space at the Nature Center so the group can gather.
As the evening comes to a close, there is a flurry of excited exchanges: "See you next time! This was fun! I love coming here! Good to see you!"
Brock, a Grayling resident who attends the Fun Nights, checks his watch and shows a friend that the alarm is set for 5:00 a.m. the following morning.
"I've got to get up early to get to my job…. I have a job stocking shelves, and I don't want to be late!"
Coe said that Fun Nights are held on Friday evenings when staff and volunteers are available. For more information or to find out when the next Fun Night is scheduled, contact Coe at 989-348-0010.