Judy Keane, founder of the Keane Foundation, outside the Sports Center at 30 Greenfield Street in Wethersfield
With tragedy comes triumph.
There is no better example of this than the wonderful work of the Keane Foundation, which was formed in Wethersfield following the tragic events of September 11, 2001.
Shortly after that fateful day, Judy Keane started the foundation in honor of her late husband Richard Keane and two other Wethersfield residents, Jeffrey Bittner and David Winton, who perished in the World Trade Center attacks nearly 17 years ago.
“We started right away. Family and friends got together and we had a fundraiser that Christmas,” Keane said of the foundation’s first event in December 2001, which was called Carol for a Cause.
Keane’s vision was to raise enough money to open a fitness facility for local families to enjoy together.
“Dick always loved pickup games of basketball with his boys and there was no place to go. The gyms were busy all the time, so we thought a sports center would be a good idea to use donations and then we had to fundraise like crazy for a few years.”
In 2008 the 9/11 Memorial Sport Center opened in the same building that houses the Wethersfield Community Center, which is located at 30 Greenfield Street.
The building and its facilities also double as the town’s emergency center.
“We were considering doing a freestanding building but we had no idea where we were going to be able to do it and then about 2006 the town asked if we could consider doing this. The town and rec department were great and we had mayors and heads of town council that were very supportive,” Keane said of the renovation project, “There was an antiquated old gymnasium that had been an auditorium at one time. It needed a lot of work. This was our major project and we wanted a gym, and we ended up with a fitness room and a classroom in the back too.”
The wing of the community center that was renovated by the foundation houses a modernized instructional basketball court, a fully equipped fitness room with a shower, and a meeting room/leaning center with computer and wireless access.
There are also two pieces of steel recovered from the ruins of the World Trade Center, one is mounted on the back wall of the gymnasium and the other is outside the main entrance. A memorial is also encased on the wall in between the learning center and the gymnasium, showcasing pictures and other visual reminders.
Most of the kids that come through the center were born after 2001 and the memorial acts as a historical representation of that day and those involved in the recovery.
“We wanted the kids to remember or to know what happened that day and what happened soon afterwards,” said Keane, “We wanted to honor everyone and the firefighters as well.”
The foundation works in tandem with the town’s parks & recreation department, allowing access to the center and developing programs for all ages.
Mary Thibeault is one the Recreation Department supervisors, helping plan and implement the summer camps and the various programs that the town offers throughout the year.
The fall brochure with a detailed list of all of the programs will be the Rare Reminder on August 23.
“The brochure has everything the department offers, from swimming lesson to gymnastics to after school programs to fitness classes to the senior center programs. Every generation is covered,” said Thibeault.
Included in the programs are a variety of fitness classes, including yoga to accommodate any age.
“In our after school program we have Kids Yoga Adventures, it takes yoga and makes it a little more fun and not as disciplined as your typical adult yoga. We also have regular adult fitness yoga, and for the seniors there’s the very popular chair yoga. We get 40 people in here sometimes,” started Thibeault.
The chair yoga is one of the most popular programs and is sponsored by the Keane Foundation. It is one of the many programs, including the after school enrichment program, that are funded by the foundation.
Last fall the after school program enrolled over 900 kids.
“That’s our main focus,” Keane said of the after school program, which started at the community center but became so crowded that they moved it to the five elementary schools and the middle school to accommodate everyone, “This year I think we were close to $100,000.00 to the programs that we supported.”
In early June the foundation had their 17th annual 5k, which is a walk/run through Old Wethersfield. The town offers another road race coming in mid-October, the Mikey’s Place 5k.
Next up is the 9/11 Family Picnic, which will take place on Sunday, September 9 this year. The picnic is the foundation’s way of saying ‘thank you’ to the community and offers an opportunity to reflect on those we lost. This year will be the 17th anniversary and attendees are encouraged to bring their own food and picnic setup while enjoying the festivities.
“It’s short and sweet. The kids play and people visit with each other. It’s a nice day,” Keane said of the event, which will start at 5 pm and end at 7 pm, “We have a band called Prelude, they are really good. It’s a really easy evening for people.”
The foundation has made an impact both locally and statewide, recently winning the 2018 Distinguished Friends of Education Award, presented by the Connecticut Association of Schools. The award is given annually to an organization outside the field of education, which has made impactful contributions to public education at the local, state, regional or national level.
The prestigious award came as a total surprise to Keane.
“We were nominated for it by the superintended of schools, Sally Dastoli, and the principle of the middle school, Sue Czapala,” recalled Keane, “I had no knowledge of it at all until we got it. It was wonderful and it was really a great honor.”
All of the awards and recognition is because of the incredible growth of the foundation through their various fundraisers.
Keane said the major fundraiser every year is the Cove Side Carnival, which will take place October 12-14. The Friday to Sunday fall festival includes free parking and free admission, and will feature outrageous rides, delicious food, games, and an entertainment-filled adult beer garden.
Local high schoolers volunteer during the carnival and throughout the year, but the foundation is always looking for additional help for all of the activities they sponsor.
“On the website there’s a whole list of all of the things that we need volunteers for. People can actually sign up on the website and they will get reminders,” added Keane, “Believe it or not we still accept checks. Every so often out of the blue we’ll get a check from somebody that knew Dick or heard about what we are doing and wants to supports us.”
Volunteer opportunities can be found and donations can be made directly though keanefoundation.org or checks can be mailed to Keane Foundation, PO Box 290742, Wethersfield, CT 06129-0742.
The website has additional details of the upcoming events. There are also schedules for the foundation fundraisers and the sports center,
including the very popular Friday Night Hangouts for sixth and seventh graders.
Saturdays during the winter are reserved for little ones. Rocky Hill softball coach Tyler Catlin and Mike Rogers run an open gym for elementary school kids from early December into March.
What started as a way to honor of her late husband, has expanded into an award-winning foundation that is growing every year thanks to the generosity of Keane and others.
“There was time when I thought it was a futility to keep trying to get a building but then things started perking. We had great people on our board and had fabulous people of our building project, so it actually happened,” recalled Keane, “I never would have thought it would have continued.
Our goal was to build the building and I had always wanted the programs, and the programs now are the big focus. I want them to continue as long as possible.”
For even more information or to register for the variety of programs the town has to offer, visit wethersfieldct.com/recreation.
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Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin