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Free fitness classes foster friendships for youth with disabilities in DC area


WASHINGTON Five years in the past, Yonina Fairley was combating for her life.

She was 17 and on her method to restoration after spinal surgical procedure when one thing went horribly improper. She coded and spent 26 scary days within the intensive care unit.

“She left us and came back,” mentioned Adrienne Fairley, Yonina’s mom.

“And I watched Yonina put a pair of tennis shoes on about two weeks after that. She was determined, and one of the things she kept saying was, ‘I want to get back to my KEEN friends.’”

KEEN is a volunteer-led nonprofit that gives free sports activities and leisure applications to kids and younger adults with bodily and developmental disabilities within the D.C. area.

But for Yonina and her mom, the group is a lot greater than a chance to play a recreation of basketball or take a swimming lesson. For them, KEEN is neighborhood.

Yonina, now 22, has been concerned with KEEN for greater than a decade. Over the years, she’s tried her hand at monitor, basketball, canoeing and Zumba her present favourite. More importantly, she’s fashioned lifelong friendships with different athletes and volunteers.

“It is difficult and it is isolating when you have a child who is said to have special needs because they don’t get a chance to do some of the activities that other typical kids get to do,” mentioned Adrienne, a D.C. native.

“This is their way of having that opportunity, not being looked upon with one thing or the other. … Yonina gets to leave me behind and be completely herself.”

Burt Braverman, chair of the KEEN Greater DC board, says the aim of KEEN is multifaceted. For starters, it “provides kids with disabilities the opportunity to do the things that other children do and take for granted sometimes.”

It additionally promotes bodily exercise — a necessity for youngsters with disabilities. Research exhibits that kids with developmental disabilities are at better danger for weight problems than their friends.

“Part of that is because they tend not to have the opportunities to exercise. They don’t have Little League; they don’t have the kinds of programs that most kids have … and so they tend to be at home; they tend to be more isolated,” Braverman mentioned.

In Yonina’s case, low muscle tone, an impact of Down Syndrome, makes it tough to remain match.

“She’s active; she dances; she does amazing things. However, the weight tends to just want to stay there, so KEEN has made a huge difference in her, physically,” Adrienne mentioned.

In 25 years, KEEN has grown from 5 kids in a Montgomery County center college fitness center to greater than 500 kids at 15 places all through D.C., Maryland and Virginia. All 30 applications supplied for these ages 5 to 25 are free. 

“Of course, families with children with disabilities face numerous challenges and one of those is economic. It’s very costly to find programs; there are medical costs; there are therapy costs,” mentioned Braverman, including that KEEN depends on a small workers, a big volunteer base (greater than 15,000 teenagers and adults have volunteered) and fundraising to maintain issues operating.

Braverman mentioned most of the younger contributors come into this system just a little “timid and fearful,” however that rapidly modifications as soon as they begin interacting with one another and with the volunteers.

Adrienne mentioned as of late, considered one of Yonina’s favourite issues is being on stage and performing, and KEEN has helped foster the arrogance to do this.

“She feels accepted and valued by the KEEN family. And that almost supersedes the exercise, and the exercise is phenomenal and absolute,” mentioned Adrienne, who schedules her weekends round KEEN actions.

In December 2017, Yonina confronted one other scare that just about took her life: an enormous blood clot that pressured her again into the hospital. But already, she’s again at Zumba.

“I don’t care what I have to do; we have to get to KEEN. That’s been a part of our lifestyle. It’s made a huge difference,” Adrienne mentioned.

Yonina added, “It’s my life.”


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