From time to time, I will take a break from writing about mobility related topics and write about a personal experience. While working for VMI for the past five years, I have had the pleasure of meeting some amazing, inspirational and wonderful people. I am embarrased to say that the “disabled” world, for all intents and purposes, was completely foreign to me before taking the job with VMI. Of course I would read about stories of people with disabilities and see people in wheelchairs, but I never knew more than what I read or saw at a distance. I not only didn’t know that products such as wheelchair vans existed, I didn’t know the importance they played in people’s lives; giving such independence and freedom.
Another embarrassing admittance is that prior to last year, I had also never volunteered a day in my life. In 2009, I volunteered for an organization here in Phoenix called Stepping Stones of Hope which is an organization that helps children and families get through the grieving process. During one of the weekend “retreats” our group used exercise to start each day and we felt the kids not only liked this, but looked forward to it. Death is such a tragic event and to be able to take an hour to not think about anything other than exercise was great for all of us at the bereavement camp.
After leaving the bereavement camp, which takes place twice a year, I saw the value with exercise and wondered if there was another organization that was geared towards kids and exercise. I typed some magic keywords into Google and up came an organization called KEEN. KEEN stands for Kids Enjoy Exercise Now and provides one-on-one recreational activity with a child who has a disability, whether it be developmental or physical. After meeting so many wonderful people who are so unfortunate to have a disability and thinking about how much I love to exercise, I felt this was a perfect organization for me.
Keen meets two Sundays each month where a volunteer gets paired up with a child. There are two exercise sessions; one for kids ranging from 4-14 years old and then a second session for kids 15-18 years old. Each volunteer gets a brief bio on the child so we know what type of disability the child has. Since each child has unique challenges, they give volunteers great information that will make both our experiences great. For example, if a child is non-verbal, or deaf, that information is vital to ensure their safety. Most of the children that come have some type of Autism or have Down Syndrome but there are many other unique cases and the wonderful thing about KEEN is that they accept everyone.
Last week, I was paired up with a child who was deaf. We were introduced and he gave me a big warm hug. For those who don’t know me, I am a big fan of the hug and this kid won me over immediately. He ran to the basketballs and wanted to shoot some hoops for awhile. After making basket after basket, he wanted to play tennis. We hit the ball back and forth for awhile and it was apparent that he was athletically gifted. We had a great time running around the gym, tossing balls around, playing tag and just hanging out. After each session all the volunteers and kids gather in a circle and we tell each other what we are thankful for and what we did that day. To finish off the session, we engage in a heated battle of tug-of war, which the kids love!
My message to you…please get involved. There are kids, adults, parents, etc. who need us. There is an organization out there for each of us, you just need to take the time to find it. Volunteering doesn’t take hours each week, if you don’t want it to. KEEN meets twice each month for three hours – that’s it! If you can’t make if one Sunday, there is another session in two weeks. I implore you to get out there in your community and give back. We are all blessed in some way; health, success, beauty, athleticism, so let’s give back. Type your magic words into Google and see what organization will fit your needs and volunteer!!