The Roosevelt Park Zoo in Minot has been recognized with the You Make a Difference Award by the Department of Human Services Division of Vocational Rehabilitation for having an inclusive work environment by employing individuals with disabilities.

It’s given to one business each year that provides job opportunities and helps build employment skills for students with disabilities.

“It’s always nice to be recognized for the work you’re doing, but the true reward is working with Matt and with students like him year-round,” said Jennifer Kleen, executive director of the Greater Minot Zoological Society. “It’s a lot of fun.”

Matthew “Matt” Westereng helps prepare food for the animals at the zoo.

“This is for the rabbit,” said Westereng. “This is the camel. This is the goat and the sheep and this is the bison and this is the cattle, and this the alpaca.”

The partnership between RPZ and Advancing Students Toward Education and Employment program at Minot State University offers employment to people with disabilities.

“We have a lot of individuals who help us out here, but Matt is our year-round diet keeper so he’s been with us for about a year now,” said Kleen.

Westereng goes above and beyond his role and says he enjoys helping the Zookeepers.

“And I help weigh the penguins and my favorite part of that giraffe feeding and helping the Okapi,” said Westereng. “All things are my favorite parts.”

Kleen says it’s been neat to see Westereng learn new skills and it’s helped others at the zoo develop new skills.

“It’s giving us an opportunity to communicate differently,” said Kleen. “What works? What doesn’t work?”

Westereng has also learned more about the animals while working at the zoo.

“And they usually sleep inside so they don’t wanna get too cold,” said Westereng. “They have comfortable fur so they agree with the fall. And tigers agree with the fall and also the lions don’t.”

Westereng works at the zoo during the summer and on weekday mornings before attending classes at MSU. He took a nutrition class at school and he applies what he learned there when feeding the animals.