How KEEN is Changing the World

Imagine a world where every child is excepted no matter their disability. Now imagine this world has programs that are free and noncompetitive!


KEEN (Kids Enjoying Exercise Now) is a nonprofit organization which is modeled on an innovative program that is established in Oxford England by Elliott Portnoy (an American student studying there. Elliott Portnoy played tennis regularly and offered to teach his friend’s son who had Down syndrome how to play. Other boys with down syndrome wanted to learn as well and Elliott Portnoy learned that it was easier when someone was helping.

In 1992, Elliott Portnoy brought KEEN to the Washington DC area with help from a handful of parents and volunteers. The mission of KEEN and its ideal principals stay the same: providing free recreational opportunities to children and young adults with disabilities by pairing them with trained volunteers for fun and noncompetitive activities.


All of KEEN’s programs are based on a single principal: pair a trained volunteer with an athlete and let them learn together how much they can do. These programs are free, volunteer run and openly unstructured. All youth Ages 15–21 who have physical or developmental disabilities are welcome, but certain programs are for select ages only.

1. KEEN sports

KEEN Sports is an open gym where youths with physical or developmental disabilities can go to have fun. Some kids like to shoot hoops while others like to roll around on scooters, run under the large multi-colored parachute, bike around the gym and much more! I have participated in this program for 8 years and have made lots of friends. If you want more info regarding ages, session times and dates, feel free to click here to be redirected.

2. KEEN Swim

KEEN swim brings the KEEN formula to the pool where the most cautious kids will get in the water. Each swimmer and their volunteer have the opportunity to dive for swim rings, play around with noodles, hitting inflatable balls or just relaxing in the water. I participated in this program for a couple of months. Click here to be redirected where you can get info about ages, session times and dates.

3. KEEN dance with Me

Kids learn children’s songs and dance moves as part of a large-group sing-a-long. For more info about ages, session times and dates, please feel free to check out this link.

The Alumni Program and Young Professionals

you probably know now that KEEN has select programs that serve all ages. What you may not know is that you don’t have to stop at the age of 21. Yes, you are not able to participate as an athlete, but this doesn’t mean you can stop helping all together. That is why the alumni program exists. My sister and I had participated in KEEN have athletes in 2010 at the age of 13 and graduated at the age of 21. We were very sad when we graduated because we thought we were done with the program.

It turns out though we were wrong. The KEEN alumni program started in September of 2018 and is open to passed KEEN athletes over the age of 21. This Group meets once a month during KEEN’s regular sports sessions on Sunday afternoons. Alumni volunteers are assigned to help with specific activities, such as a game of kickball, bowling, or the parachute and are assisted by other KEEN volunteers. this is a great opportunity to socialize, connect and play. Danielle and I have done this for 2 or 3 years and continue to make friends.

KEEN is affiliated with KEEN USA in the Washington District of Columbia area. KEEN also has young professionals. Their mission is to enhance KEEN’s ability to provide exceptional programming while creating an enriching community for motivated individuals through opportunities to develop socially, civically, and professionally. They strive to: heighten awareness about children with disabilities and the fight against obesity, create and maintain a social networking platform for young professionals, increase the volunteer base amongst young professionals and strategically address and assist with the fundraising needs of KEEN St. Louis. If you are interested in helping or would like to make an impact, please click here to fill out an application.

KEEN is a great organization to be a part of. Whether you are volunteering, being an athlete or helping in some other way, you are making a difference for people with disabilities!

I am 24 years old and live with my family and 2 dogs.