Amazing program helps Chicago kids with special needs get active

Last year, when high school sophomore Salman Jaffer was looking for a fun, athletic way to fulfill his volunteer hours for school, he immediately fell in love with Kids Enjoy Exercise Now Chicago.

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Sessions are offered year-round at various times depending on the location.

Families can choose a location nearest them: UIC Fitness Center, Loyola Park District, Alcott College Prep High School and Sky High Sports.

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This program, offered in various locations throughout the Chicagoland area, pairs a trained volunteer with a person with disabilities, age 4-21, for a free, hour-long session.

The kids can choose their activity from whatever is offered in the gym, from riding scooters to shooting hoops. KEEN also offers the KEENQuatics program, where children can enjoy the pool one-on-one with a volunteer.

“A lot of kids don’t get the opportunity to exercise when they want because organized sports are very competitive and KEEN is non-competitive,” Jaffer says.

Participant C.J. Coleman says he likes KEEN because he has the freedom to choose his activity each time he goes.

“It’s a lot of fun because I want to play basketball, tag and relay races with my friends,” he says.

While some parents come wanting their child to master a specific goal, KEEN’s main goal has always been about staying active, says Executive Director Ayana Geiger. Geiger also hopes one of the biggest takeaways is friendship.

As for Jaffer, he says the relationships he has formed with the kids are genuine, and he sees the impact the program is making on them socially.

“It’s really important for kids to exercise and also develop that relationship with a volunteer,” says Jaffer. “They feel really special when they get to work one-on-one, play and have fun.”

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