Master Moon and KEEN athletes practice Tae Kwon Do at KEENFest 2018.
Twice a month on Sunday afternoon, more than 30 Bullis KEEN Club members meet their buddies to go bowling, pick apples at Butler’s Orchard, dance the Zumba, play games in the Bullis gym or participate in many other active programs. The afternoon is filled with camaraderie, laughter and friendship.
“We make an impact on our buddy’s lives — but they make a bigger impact on ours,” said Bullis KEEN Club’s co-president Ethan Copeland.
His co-president Sophie Fragoyannis added, “The Bullis students gain far more than they give. We grow closer with our buddies throughout the year — and the excitement we feel when we spend time together makes each of us feel special.”
KEEN (Kids Enjoy Exercise Now) programs are open to all youths, ages 5-25, with physical or developmental disabilities. Bullis students are paired with KEEN athletes and together they discover how much they can do. The unstructured activities allow athletes with significant challenges to make a friend and to feel successful.
Because of its commitment to KEEN, The Bullis School has been selected to receive the KEEN Distinguished Community Impact Award for the outstanding and inspirational support they have given to KEEN. The award was presented on Saturday, Nov. 3 at the KEENFEST Gala held at the Washington Hilton Hotel. The theme of the evening was “Keen’s Got Talent” and featured entertainment by the KEEN athletes. Dr. Gerald Boarman, Head of The Bullis School received the award on behalf of the Bullis students.
“I am proud to be accepting this award for the Bullis Students,” Boarman said. “The kids participate in KEEN Club because they want to be involved. They must fill out an application explaining what it means to them to be a KEEN coach — and they are proud when they are accepted. They connect with their buddies and form bonds that last forever. Bullis students initiated the program, plan the events and are committed to volunteering as coaches and friends. They truly love working with their buddies — and it has helped them develop an understanding that helping others makes them happy too.”
Bullis parent and KEEN board member Barbara Guterman said, “The Bullis School has stepped up in every way to be the model for a caring, inclusive community. They have devoted the resources of the school and have galvanized the student body to participate with the young people from KEEN, Special Olympics and The Diener School. It’s not just a few kids reaching out to a few kids — the KEEN events are part of the fabric of the school now. The impact that the KEEN kids have on our Bullis kids is life-altering and many change their career goals to work with the special needs community after becoming a Bullis Buddy. KEEN and Bullis kids impact life together.”
The Sunday get-togethers are not the only way that Bullis supports KEEN. For 10 years, the school has sponsored the “Bullis Gives Back” 5K/2.5K Run/Walk fundraiser. Each year, the Bullis students partner with KEEN buddies to help them participate in the race/fun run and complete an exciting Olympics race course. This year the race is dedicated to Michelle Benaim who created and co-chaired the event since 2014. She was a driving force for inclusion for all children before she died. The theme of the April 29 race is “Choose to Include.”
The Bullis KEEN Club also sponsors a prom which gives their KEEN buddies the opportunity to attend a prom, just like every other high school student. Bullis students raise funds, decorate the Athletic Center extensively, send invitations, take photographs, and provide corsages and boutonnieres.
KEEN started 26 years ago with five youths in the Tilden gym with a few balls, a basketball hoop and not much else. The parents bought the equipment. Now KEEN has 60 programs throughout Maryland, Virginia and D.C. — and serves more than 500 youths with disabilities. For more information about this program, go to https://www.keengreaterdc.org.