by Katelyn Keller, Marketing Intern
Five students from Winona State University and Saint Mary’s University assisted with Home and Community Options’ 2019 annual musical as musical interns. This internship’s primary responsibilities involve supporting and mentoring HCO cast members, integrating the individuals supported by HCO with the rest of the community, fostering independence, engaging other cast members to help support the individuals, and communicating with program staff to learn how to address the unique needs of each individual. Jumping right into both familiar and new experiences, musical interns push themselves to develop lasting relationships and realize greater potential in themselves.
Megan Litterer was a special education major when she applied for the internship. She heard about the opportunity through an e-mail and decided to apply since some of her friends would be in the musical. She also wanted to get to know more individuals supported by HCO. After her experience with the musical and talking with other interns, she switched her major to therapeutic recreation (TR).
Haley Kooiman, meanwhile, heard about the internship through somebody at work. Haley had high expectations because of how her co-worker and others talked about their experiences with the musical. “Everything,” Haley said, “was exactly how everyone said. It was amazing.” She additionally described the people in charge as “so nice and so welcoming, I never felt out of place. I never felt like I couldn’t ask questions [or] for help.”
Briana Weyer heard about the internship through fellow intern, Haley. Briana got a lot of hands-on experience and learned as she went on. She recalled working on calming techniques with a particular individual. She said that having to do so was not unexpected, but it was a new experience.
Being on stage was a new experience for Briana Weyer, as well as for Haley and Megan. Although the three acknowledged that they were nervous prior to the shows, each became absorbed in the experiences of the cast as rehearsals progressed. The interns also fed off each other’s energy and helped each other out.
Once she got on stage with her individuals, Briana shared that she saw through their eyes rather than her own, getting caught up in their experiences. “It was never even about me—” she said, “it’s about everybody.” On the last night, she found it amazing how everybody pushed through at the end, finishing a marathon six days of performances.
Haley similarly got out of her comfort zone and gained confidence on stage. Her experience with the musical helped her become much more comfortable talking to larger crowds.
Seeing everybody opening night was “just amazing” for Megan, who believes “you need to enjoy every moment of [the process].” She especially enjoyed “hyping [her individuals] up and making them feel super special and important.” There was a particular individual she was dancing a waltz with on stage whom she told, Okay, you need to twirl because I’m not going to. You’re the star of the show here!
All of the interns found their experiences very rewarding. Megan repeated throughout her interview, “I wouldn’t change it for the world.” She said that seeing the individuals “smiling and clapping and singing along [to the final dance number]— that’s what did it for me…. This is what I wanted. I wanted them to be happy.”
The internship is a well-organized program. Briana described how each intern got a binder, background information about each of the individuals whom she would support, and the practice schedules ahead of time.
Each intern was pushed to learn new things and realize greater potential in themselves.
Megan had considered herself a people person, but didn’t realize how outgoing and personable she could push herself to be until this internship. She learned about the importance of having an open mind, being flexible, and understanding others’ goals. This involves not just listening to what’s being said, but also what’s not.
Haley learned how essential communication is for everybody. She additionally found that she needs to push herself to try new things and that they won’t always turn out as expected.
Briana further realized that you need a lot of support and have people who understand why you’re doing what you’re doing in order to keep something like the musical going. She discovered a greater strength within herself than she ever thought she’d find, managing more stress and developing more relationships than she’d thought possible.
The relationships formed with their individuals and seeing them grow were highlights for each of the interns. Haley talked enthusiastically about one individual in particular who was “super shy” when they first met, but has become more outgoing since.
A large part of Briana’s experience was striving to be personable. She enjoys being able to recognize so many individuals supported by HCO not only at HCO’s various programs and events, but also in the community. She and the other interns helped support these individuals and make them feel just as involved with the community as anyone else through their activities with the musical.
Musical interns are able to add additional components to the internship, custom-building it to fit individual goals and time requirements. Haley and Briana did this through organizing summer events and community activities, and by helping in other areas in order to satisfy requirements for their TR major practicums.
Briana started her hours in March, helping with HCO’s weekly Monday adaptive dance sessions and other community events, such as Touch A Truck. She also did office work, one of her favorite parts of her practicum with HCO besides the musical. It fascinated her to see how many calls a day the organization gets and what people do in the office.
Haley, meanwhile, learned a lot about planning and implementing community events. She planned an activity for the community once a week with another person. She found planning activities for a large group challenging since she had never done it before, but said that that was really good since it’s what she wants to do in her career.
One of her favorite activities was a cookout at Prairie Island, which she feels was the biggest hit of all the activities she planned. Haley had brought water guns and balloons. She laughed, sharing that she hadn’t expected it to turn into an all-out water fight, but that everybody loved it.
Although challenging, each of the interns had an amazing experience. Haley said, “I don’t know how anybody could be on the fence about doing this internship. I think that any one of us [interns] would talk so highly of the practicum and our experience.”
Megan echoed Haley’s encouragement. “Just do it!” She spoke earnestly about the importance of community activities that incorporate opportunities for people with disabilities. The musical is “a unique experience that I think everybody should be a part of,” Megan shared. “You have to experience it at least once!”
Since 1998, HCO has had the long-standing tradition of holding an annual musical that integrates individuals with disabilities and community members into one cast. Each musical provides internship opportunities for students to support children and adults with disabilities as they fulfill their dreams of being on stage. Individuals participate as cast members, backstage crew members, and other behind-the-scenes roles while building skills of independence and forming lasting relationships with their peers. The yearly production also acts as HCO’s main fundraiser, addressing budget shortfalls for much-needed services, supplies, and equipment for those HCO supports.
HCO provides internship/practicum/field experience opportunities that can be tailored for almost any degree. If you’re interested in any of our internship or volunteer opportunities, please contact HCO Events Coordinator, Lynette Johnson, at LynetteJ@hco.org.