On Sunday, May 7th, ten BranchOut! mentors gathered at the Kilmore Center in Vienna, Virginia, and participated in an event organized by KEEN Greater DC. KEEN is a nonprofit that stands for Kids Enjoy Exercise Now and its mission is to “empower youth with disabilities and impact volunteer coaches through participation in free, non-competitive, one-on-one programs of physical activity and fun, supporting the overall health and well-being of all participants.”
Elizabeth Li, a 10th grader at Oakton High School and a BranchOut! student leader, shared the following. “Today at KEEN, all the BranchOut! mentors were able to pair up with a child with disabilities and all of us enjoyed the experience. The children were adorable and super energetic! Our mentors played with them on the playground and in the gym, pushing them on the swings, playing basketball, etc. Throughout the experience, all of us learned how to communicate and bond with someone without using verbal speech.”
KEEN provides several activities throughout the school year and gives students with disabilities an opportunity to exercise while providing their parents a much-needed break as many of these students need constant care and attention.
This volunteer experience greatly helped the BranchOut! students by expanding their knowledge of the worldview. It taught the mentors how to communicate with others who might not convey their thoughts in the same way. Additionally, it helped them understand and accept people from different backgrounds and situations. At the end of the session, the athletes had a rousing round of “The Hokey Pokey” before being dismissed. From the athletes’ happy faces, it was evident that they had fun.
Below are testimonials from a few first-time BranchOut! participants:
“Working at KEEN has been an eye-opening and new experience. I enjoyed working with Maddy, my student-athlete, and we both learned a lot about each other. By working with these student-athletes, I have learned and improved my communication skills. I definitely recommend KEEN to anybody interested!” - Aimee Liu, 8th grade, Longfellow Middle School
“I think that going to KEEN was a very cool and unique experience. I helped a kid who was nonverbal and had cerebral palsy, and it was an interesting, but great experience. He was a great kid, and we had some fun. We did some activities, and I think he really enjoyed it. I think it was an important experience for me because it helped put things in perspective and it helped us see what some kids have to deal with. Additionally, I think it was awesome to be able to create joy for a child who has had a difficult life from the start. Overall, it was an incredible experience, and I would definitely do it again.” - Jai Arora, 9th grade, Langley High School
“Volunteering at KEEN was an extremely unique and enjoyable experience. As it was my first time attending a BranchOut! event, I also got to meet a lot of wonderful team members. I learned all about communication and how it may be difficult for those with disabilities. Overall, I had an amazing time volunteering at KEEN and if given the chance, I would like to participate again.” - Lianhan Li, 9th grade, BASIS
“Through working with my assigned athlete, Sanjana, I was able to learn patience and communication. At first, we may not have known how to communicate well, but towards the end, we reached an understanding and had tons of fun. This experience with KEEN really opened my eyes to the people around me.” -Sarah Li, 8th grade, Longfellow Middle School
Thank you to KEEN for providing us with this opportunity! Our next session with KEEN is on June 18th at 1:30 PM at Kilmore Center. Please contact us at email@example.com for more information!