The Town has hosted Friday Teen Night at the Okotoks Rec Centre for years, but this year they have unveiled some big changes.

Carey Gruber, Youth Social Development Manager for the Town of Okotoks, said the biggest change for the weekly event has been to make it free.

“It sends a strong message about the town’s value of youth in our community,” said Gruber.

She calls the Town's decision to make the event free a game-changer.

A typical Teen Night offers local youth a chance to swim in the Rec Centre pool, stay active in the gymnasium, or head to the Youth Centre located in the basement for plenty of recreational activities.

By eliminating the cost, Gruber said there are no more barriers to access for youth.

The Friday Teen Night “reboot” includes new youth membership cards which can be scanned at the door to shorten lines, and a reduction in hours from 8 p.m.-11 p.m. to a 10 p.m. shutdown.

Gruber said shortening the hours helped improve parental confidence in the event.

“Most of the kids left at ten anyway, but now it’s a hard and fast rule. Which means that parents are more willing to have that be a positive thing to pick their kids up (earlier),” she said.

She said Friday Teen Night has proven to be much more popular since the changes came into effect earlier this year.

“The pool and the gym have typically had ebb and flow within the year. Since the changes attendance has increased substantially,” she added.

Gruber said Friday Teen Night used to carry a poor reputation. The Town has made efforts to rid the event of that stigma.

“We’ve worked in conjunction with the whole Okotoks Youth branding to highlight to parents it is safe, it is supervised, and it is a healthy, happy way for your teens to spend their Friday night in a really positive environment," Gruber said.

She adds that behavior incidents are now “almost non-existent.”

While Gruber is excited about the changes to Teen Night, she also credits the attendants for the positive changes to what was once seen as a potentially unsafe weekly event.

“The youth who come almost without exception are polite, respectful, both of people and the facility,” she said. “They are just there to have fun. I mean, what could be better? It’s just so great to see that.”