(Oct. 24, 2018) Catherine Read sits down with Barbara Guterman, Board Member of Kids Enjoy Exercise Now (KEEN). KEEN’s mission is to empower youth with disabilities by providing free, non-competitive, one to one programs of exercise, fitness and fun led by volunteer coaches. Their vision is to foster self confidence, self esteem and community inclusion for youth with disabilities, strengthen communities through education and volunteers, and provide families with respite and a supportive network.
Elliot Portnoy, who imported the concept of the organization from England 26 years ago, established KEEN with 5 kids and 5 volunteers. His vision was to have a world where all youth have equal opportunities for recreation, fitness and friendship – regardless of their abilities. KEEN believes that a strong, healthy body and mind are connected to one another, and KEEN gives kids of all abilities a safe place to explore, try new things and have fun at the same time.
The organization has grown exponentially since 1992, and now serves approximately 500 kids throughout the Washington metro area. KEEN recently opened up new locations in Virginia, and is actively looking for more opportunities to grow their partnerships in the Virginia suburbs. They are in search of schools, community centers and companies who can help them grow their programming and volunteer base in order to serve more children.
Guterman speaks passionately about the strong bonds and friendships formed between the volunteer coaches and the athletes who they train. The unique aspect of having 1:1 ratio enables these bonds to grow deep and strong. They get to know one another, and very much look forward to the time that they spend together every week. This program also serves as a wonderful respite for parents, who sometimes just need a break to grocery shop or rest with a cup of coffee, while their child gets worn out while exercising. Many times these children might not have any other opportunity to participate in an extracurricular exercise program, so both parents and kids very much look forward to the weekly KEEN sessions.
The KEEN website has a full calendar of sessions, so parents can simply signup online to bring their child to a session. There is no cost involved in this program. Likewise, anyone looking to volunteer can register online, and then get paired with a local session. All first time volunteers get a 15-20 introductory training, as well as receiving a written profile of your athlete. This helps you understand your athlete and how to best work with them.
Guterman is the chair of the annual KEENFest gala, to be held on November 3rd at the Capital Hilton in Washington, DC. This year’s theme is KEEN’s Got Talent, and will showcase a number of their athletes who will perform everything from singing to dancing to a fashion show. The kids are extremely excited to participate in the program and showcase their talents. She is expecting over 400 people, and is extraordinarily grateful to their sponsors Marriott and Total Wine. Gutenberg welcomes anyone who would like to join them for this special evening or sponsor the program. Tickets and sponsorship opportunities can be found on the website.