Physical activity is important for any kid, but the emphasis is deeper for those with special needs, which is why the latest New Yorker of the Week is putting a focus on getting them out and active. NY1's John Schiumo filed the following report.
Between school and therapy, it's not easy for some children with special needs to find the time to play around, just be a kid. For Maggie Harrison, there's nothing better than giving them the opportunity to do so.
"The goal is to provide that support system so that our athletes feel comfortable in venturing out and trying something new, and knowing that even if they don't make that basket or they don't score that goal, there's someone there who’s going to be cheering them on each and every time," Harrison says.
Since 2011, Harrison's been a loud cheerleader. She runs KEEN New York, a nonprofit that pairs volunteers with children every week. These athletes with mental or physical disabilities take part in activities ranging from basketball to arts and crafts. The goal is to boost self-esteem and confidence.
"When you're a child with special needs, you have to measure your successes and your failures against what you can do, and I think the great thing about this organization is that it allows kids to be kids and to be themselves and to do the things that they enjoy doing and to receive encouragement and positive support," says Dan Tierney, a volunteer with KEEN New York.
Harrison's passion is personal. Her younger brother Kevin died eight years ago from complications from his disabilities.
"I see him in all of the athletes, in how beautiful today ended up, when it was supposed to be rainy and cloudy. I know that he's there, and it sparks what I'm able to bring in knowing that I’m kind of carrying on his legacy with KEEN," she says.
Those in the program feel her compassion.
"She's kind and she's sweet and she likes being with us," says Melysa Rodriguez, a participant with KEEN New York.
"Not many people understand the struggle that we go through, day by day, trying to get our kids ahead in life," says Yndhira Rodriguez, a parent of a participant with KEEN New York. "So when you have somebody that naturally can understand and jump into it, that makes you feel good."
So, for fostering the talents of all children, Maggie Harrison is our New Yorker of the Week.
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