Guest Author - Bonnie Sayers
Back in 2005 I received information in the mail from the Regional Center Coordinator on a program entitled KEEN - Kids Enjoy Exercise Now. This was announcing the program commencing in October for young people with Disabilities to participate in sports activities on a Sunday afternoon. However, the data indicated "Looking for a Few Good Men and Women" enclosed with a volunteer registration.
The cover letter indicated this program was open for children ages six to ten. My sons at the time were nine and ten in different Elementary Schools with absolutely no interest in sports. I did not have the stamina to push them into doing this so I did not pursue KEEN further and forgot all about them until recently.
Although KEEN Los Angeles has been around for several years I never heard any mention of it in my yahoo groups or at various meetings I attend on a monthly basis. This summer I came in contact with KEENLA on twitter. Their Los Angeles location is basically around the corner from us as it is near Dodger Stadium. They meet twice a month on Sundays from 11 AM - 12:30 PM.
" KEEN LA provides one-to-one coaching for every athlete in the program, allowing KEEN to provide activities for children with even the most profound disabilities. Each “athlete” has his or her own volunteer “coach” at all KEEN activities (sometimes more than one per athlete). By providing individualized attention, KEEN LA is able to accept all children, irrespective of the nature or severity of their disability or the extent of their needs."
I printed out the new athlete enrollment forms that are available in both English and Spanish in either PDF or Word formats. There is also a liability waiver to print out.
KEENLA also posted photos from the Los Angeles kick-off event. This is available year round, except for the month of August and open rain or shine.
"Since the summer of 2008, KEEN LA has grown from a volunteer base of 100 to 1100. KEEN LA currently serves over 65 athletes whose disabilities range from autism, down syndrome and cerebral palsy."
I filled out all the forms for each of my sons prior to our arrival. There were colorful t-shirts for sale at a reasonable price of $10.00. The athletes are not required to wear the shirts. The event was sponsored by Junior League of Los Angeles. The coach volunteers for Matthew and Nicholas were there due to their wives being part of that organization. I am hopeful they will be at the next session in another week.
There were many stations around the Therapeutic Center like bowling, soccer, water balloons, hula hoop, nets for playing with balls, swings, sand area, grass for baseball and hiking.
Each person has a nametag - parent, coach, KEEN personnel and the athletes. The coach kept in their pockets the registration information for each new athlete. The website has mailing information for those that want to send their forms ahead of the next session.
Since Nicholas is homeschooled I felt it was good for him to get out and do some exercise among peers. Matthew loves to run laps at school in Adaptive Physical Education so I wanted to get him outside during weekends also.
It seemed that the parents stick around on benches in front of the Center, which is also down the street from the LAPD Training Academy. Some parents were having a respite reading the newspaper or a book, while others were having conversations. It is nice to network and meet new families that have children with disabilities. There is an inside basketball court and a room for arts and crafts. Parents were taking pictures of their kids and observing them having fun. There was a good mix of boys and girls within all age ranges. The ages are from 3-18.
Matthew enjoyed having someone pay attention to him and was smiling, skipping and jogging around observing other kids here and there. They went hiking around on the grass. Matthew is not one to stop and play a game, so this seemed to be all he wanted to do. Nicholas indicated not enough older kids, so hopefully future sessions will have more peers in his age group.
The volunteer matches were ideal for both my sons and it was the first time for all of us. At the end all the athletes and their coaches sat in a large circle for the closing activities on the grass talking about their session. Paperbags were handed out that contained bottled water, banana, pretzels and animal crackers.
This was an enjoyable experience for my kids and I encourage other families in Los Angeles and the other cities listed below to check out Kids Enjoy Exercise Now (KEEN). They are among peers in a comfortable setting where they are trying sports in a non-competitive atmosphere.
KEEN Affiliates - includes Chicago, DC, New York, Kansas City, Phoenix, San Francisco and St. Louis in the United States. There are three locations in England - London, Oxford and York.