Weekends as a George Washington student-athlete are often full of games, practices or workouts. Last Saturday, the GW women's water polo team got their workout in by volunteering with Kids Enjoying Exercise Now (KEEN).
KEEN is a volunteer-led non-profit organization that provides one-to-one recreational opportunities for children and young adults with developmental and physical disabilities at no cost to their families and caregivers. KEEN's mission is to foster the self-esteem, confidence, skills and talents of its athletes through non-competitive activities, allowing young people facing even the most significant challenges to meet their individual goals.
"We wanted to do something sports-related (for community service), and KEEN has a really cool program where we got to make a difference and have fun at the same time," said senior Jessie Hurd, who found the organization and arranged for the team to volunteer.
There are KEEN programs in many sports, including KEEN Tennis, KEEN Swim, KEEN Bowling and KEEN Fit. Since there is no KEEN water polo, the GW women's water polo team volunteered with another sport they know something about - KEEN Swim.
The squad arrived at Georgetown Preparatory School in Rockville, Md., for a quick training session. Each GW student-athlete was partnered with a KEEN athlete after receiving profiles of the KEEN athletes' age, disability and swimming ability to prepare each volunteer to meet her partner.
"We were really prepared for the type of behavior to expect from the athletes," said sophomore Jessie Sinkula. "The leaders of KEEN Swim made it really easy to feel comfortable interacting with the athletes, especially for the people on the team who had never interacted with a disabled child before. It was a good experience."
The Colonials met their athletes and played with them in the pool for 50 minutes, getting the KEEN athletes comfortable in the water, teaching them how to blow bubbles and playing games.
"As an athlete, I was absolutely moved by the pure joy these kids got from just being in the water, and it helped reinvigorate my own love for water polo," said freshman Caroline Sandri. "Working with my KEEN athlete, an adult with autism, and sharing a tearful goodbye hug at the end is a memory I will never forget."
KEEN Swim takes place once a month, and the team is planning to return to volunteer again in November.
KEEN is headquartered in D.C. with other locations nationwide. KEEN Greater DC now operates 23 programs throughout the area.