KEEN St. Louis

Coaches wanted

KEEN St. Louis, which helps promote fitness and exercise for children with disabilities, is looking for volunteers in St. Charles County

By Brett Auten

The giving season is among us and a fraction of your time could go a long way in benefiting others.

KEEN St. Louis needs for volunteers as it continues its expansion into St. Charles County.  KEEN’s mission is to empower youths with disabilities by providing free, non-competitive one-to-one programs of exercise, fitness, and fun, led by volunteer coaches.

And that is where you or someone you know can step in.

Volunteers are needed in KEEN Sports, held at Barnwell Middle School, and KEEN Swim, located at the Renaud Center in O’Fallon as well as the Maryland Heights Community Center.

“The purpose of this program is to provide an accepting non-competitive environment to these kids to allow them to feel safe to learn to socialize and exercise,” Cybil Foster, KEEN Program Coordinator, said. “This program is free to the parents of the athletes and allows (the parents) an hour of respite. We have expanded into St. Charles and O’Fallon, but in doing so, we have been experiencing difficulty in securing enough volunteers on an ongoing basis. The numbers have been so low that volunteers have to watch multiple children or the parent has to jump in the water and swim with the kids. So, it has not been ideal so far this season.”

KEEN volunteers are paired one-on-one with a youth with a disability and participate in a variety of recreational activities. Volunteers don’t need any prior experience working with individuals with disabilities as KEEN provides training before each session. Volunteers don’t need to be athletic, either.

“Our athletes will love you just as you are,” Foster said. “We just want you to show up and have fun.”

Volunteer Katie Meyer spoke on her volunteer experience with KEEN.

“Being in the water can be energizing or calming and we got to enjoy both,” Meyer said. “From splashing and beach ball volleyball to floating and gliding, each child was able to experience a little of everything. Going in, I thought this would be fun for the kids, but honestly, it was a lot of fun for me too.”

Volunteer Kaitlyn Woodard said that KEEN has made her Sunday afternoons full of smiles and laughter.

“I love spending time with the kids at KEEN and watching them have a blast in the sessions,” Woodard said.

Opportunities are available for individuals or groups to get involved with KEEN for occasional participation or regular involvement. It has a flexible volunteer policy with no regular or minimum commitment is necessary. Volunteers simply attend sessions as their schedules allow.

To become a KEEN volunteer you must complete a new volunteer application (located online at keenstlouis.org). Volunteers must provide contact information for three references. Once the application has been approved, you can log into the online registration system and select the date of the session you would like to attend. From there, you attend a new volunteer orientation, available before each session. Check with the Volunteer and Program Manager to confirm orientation times for each program.

“KEEN has definitely opened my mind,” Volunteer Madelyn Leigh said. “I love seeing all the kids and forming a relationship with them. It is like a family and it is always so welcoming to new kids and new volunteers. KEEN is very special to me.”

KEEN St Louis is a nonprofit organization and is an affiliate of KEEN USA headquartered in Washington, DC. KEEN St. Louis’ local Board of Directors is comprised of community leaders, parents and volunteers with the purpose of providing skills and expertise to the organization helping to ensure that it remains true to KEEN’s mission: providing free recreational opportunities to children and young adults with disabilities by pairing them with trained volunteers for fun, noncompetitive activities.

CUTLINE Photos courtesy KEEN St. Louis KEEN St. Louis is on the search for volunteers to help out with their expansion into St. Charles County. Volunteers are needed to assist youths in KEEN Swim, held at the Renaud Center in O’Fallon (as well as the Maryland Heights Community Center), and KEEN Sports, held at Barnwell Middle School. For more information, visit keenstlouis.org.