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Heart and Soul: How a Husband and Wife Team Built the Bennett Institute
In 1989, when Gerry and Gwena Herman got the call to move from Boston to Baltimore to start a physically challenged sports program, there was no question that they would do it. Gerry, who had self-styled his college major to do sports and physical education with special populations, found in the offer a chance to pursue his dream. And the Hermans have never looked back.
Within a year the Bennett Institute Physically Challenged Sports Program at Kennedy Krieger had taken root. The Hermans started with a wheelchair basketball program, but knew that they needed to expand the program so that kids with a wider range of disabilities would be able to compete. Today, the scope of the program is impressive. Kids have the opportunity to take part in sports such as wheelchair basketball and football, swimming, track, field, sled hockey, archery, baseball, cycling, petracycling, sitting volleyball, and tennis. And it serves physically challenged children and young adults who may or may not be developmentally delayed.
What's even more impressive than the growth is that the whole program is run by Gerry and Gwena and a team of friends and parent volunteers.
"Physically challenged sports is our life," says Gerry. And it's true. They coach the kids, travel with them across the country and around the world to different competitions and events.
"The Hermans are awesome," says Jen Bratlie, Colbie's mom.
"They know the kids can do it, and they don't let them quit because it's 'too hard.'"
Gerry and Gwena know what a difference sports can make for children with developmental disabilities. They work hard to ensure that every child who wants to is able to participate, whether it means collecting equipment that they can loan out to the kids, or offering up their home as a dorm for those who have to commute great distances to practice.
"Any kid that can't make the trip to Baltimore every week, who needs somewhere to stay, can stay there," Jen says. Gerry laughs as he admits that his home has been nicknamed the "Herman Hilton."
Built on Gerry and Gwena's dedication and passion, the Bennett Institute is a world-class sports program, and many of the kids who participate are given opportunities they wouldn't otherwise have. Some go on to the Paralympics or get college scholarships to continue their sport and further their education.
Despite all they've already done, Gerry and Gwena won't be slowing down any time soon. Now they're looking at ways to help former Bennett Institute athletes as they graduate from college and begin to look for jobs. They've invited their athletes back to help run training camps, and are even trying to develop a program that would offer them employment at the Bennett Institute.
"These kids have so much to offer," says Gerry. "They're real role models."