One of the most important lessons I have learnt, as I imagine many others have too from this pandemic, is the value of offering up our time to help others. Cher-ity Corner is a weekly column that highlights local Oxford charities that students can volunteer with and make a difference.
I spoke with Catherine Smith, Programme Manager of KEEN; discussing the origins of KEEN, the various opportunities they have for students and the rewarding nature of volunteering with them. Find out how you can get involved and more about their amazing work.
KEEN can be traced back all the way to 1984, upon the arrival of a Rhodes Scholar who recognised the lack of sporting opportunities for those living with disabilities in Oxford – and wanted to do something about it. Initially what was a small tennis club for disabled individuals, is now 30 years later an international non-profit movement that serves hundreds of young people with disabilities each week in cities around the UK and US, training over 30,000 volunteers as a result (but… Oxford is still its flagship branch)!
KEEN’s mission is to create, support and promote inclusion for disabled children and young people. They exist because they believe everybody should be meaningfully included in their communities and have equal access to sports and recreational activities. Not only do KEEN run their own inclusive activities, but they do so much more work beyond that in trying to change perceptions of disability and working within the local community to make society a more inclusive place across the board.
“Working in partnership with other organisations, university clubs, and charities is so important to that side of our mission: we recently established Inclusive Oxfordshire with the aim of making Oxford fully inclusive place for disabled people by 2030.”
In normal times, KEEN run a regular weekly timetable filled with things like AllSorts (their flagship sports session), ZigZag (their creative session), KEEN Teens and GrEAT Social, as well as KEEN plus events which involve trips to museums, the theatre, bowling and so much more!
At the moment, they are operating a busy Virtual KEEN timetable over zoom which is a blast: you can do everything from yoga to talent shows, cooking to exercise classes, KEEN choir, Film Clubs and even just general chats. There have been up to 20 sessions weekly, with around 400 total sign-ins weekly. They have also been sending out weekly postal packs to families unable to access zoom since last March and have created our own YouTube Channel packed full of fun activities to complete.
How can students get involved?
“KEEN simply couldn’t function without our absolutely brilliant team of student volunteers. I can’t speak highly of them enough – they truly make KEEN as wonderful as it is.”
Many students get involved by coming along as a “Session Buddy” to in-person or virtual activities, offering support and getting stuck in themselves. Many volunteers also run the sessions, so get to decide what activities KEEN do on a week-to-week basis. “It’s a fab way to escape the student bubble and release your inner child!” – Catherine
KEEN also have a very committed Student Committee working behind the scenes on an operational level who run KEEN’s social media, help produce accessible resources and so much more. “We’re a sociable bunch and welcome absolutely anybody to get involved.” – Catherine
Why should you get involved?
“It’s a joy to watch as young people develop and grow in confidence and build relationships – we have participants who at first barely say a word and then start performing at KEENs Got Talent every week or showing everybody a stretch in yoga, and who wave like mad when they see their friend join the call.”
KEEN is driven by inclusivity: it helps make the world a friendlier, more equal and more accessible place.
“A parent recently told me how grateful they were for ‘adding so much colour’ to their child’s life; a volunteer told me KEEN had been a lifeline over lockdown – it’s little things like this that encapsulate how rewarding this work is.”
Want to get involved?
You can get in touch with the Programme Manager (Catherine) at [email protected]. Their website and socials also have useful information: