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Kids' martial arts studio gets the whole family Zooming (and kicking)

Over the past year Luiza Raab-Pontecorvo, owner and

Over the past year Luiza Raab-Pontecorvo, owner and instructor at Atomic Tae Kwon Do in Huntington, had to change her business model due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She began offering classes online in March 2020 and soon after invited parents to join their children in classes.    Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa Loarca

Martial arts are about physical, mental and spiritual development, and about pushing yourself to excellence. Discipline is a must and so is tenacity. These are values Luiza Raab-Pontecorvo, owner and instructor at Atomic Tae Kwon Do in Huntington, tries to instill in her students. This past year, especially, she’s had to practice what she preaches.

The pandemic devastated the fitness industry. Many gyms, yoga and martial arts studios closed. Resiliency has new meaning to Raab. With 15 years in business, she wasn’t going down without a fight. Prior to COVID, her classes for children and teens were solely in person. She started offering classes online in March 2020 and soon after invited parents to join their children in classes at no additional cost. That and other tweaks to her business got her through tough times, though she lost 60% of her clients. (She has since regained some and estimates she is down by about 50%.)

Raab shared her survival strategies with Newsday.

How did you decide to include parents in online classes?

At first, the children were excited to do classes on Zoom. But they started missing the other kids. Adding parents made it fun again. The kids got a thrill teaching their parents moves, and they enjoyed working together. Children put on their uniforms; it was a bit of normalcy during a stressful time. Some parents bought kicking bags and set up areas for class and others used stuff they had. Kids kicked pillows or magazines held by parents. We kept creating new elements, like having contests, child vs. parent, or one family vs. another family.

What other changes did you make?

We had free virtual parties and scavenger hunts. It was about supporting families, bringing them together. They bonded with each other and us with them. We did virtual or phone calls with parents who needed help with the transition into virtual learning and extra TLC. There were tearful conversations. We expanded our program to include empowerment for the whole family, with parenting tips and helping children work through emotions like fear. Many children were very scared about COVID.

Did you find other ways to motivate the kids and parents?

We offered free group and individual virtual testing sessions so that students could demonstrate their techniques and fine-tune them and continue earning their stripes and belts. We started Facebook Live events, Tuesday morning coffee time/stretching for adults, and Monday and Wednesday exercise and story time for kids. The Facebook events were open to anyone.

How did the changes impact business?

We got new clients from people who participated in the Facebook Live events. Through our cash referral program, we gave $75 to those who referred us to people who joined. That helped. I think the extra care we showed clients helped keep them. Without all these measures we wouldn’t be in business.

What was one of the biggest challenges?

Last summer when the governor opened up the parks, we held class in Heckscher Park [in Huntington], and the police kicked us out. Parents got upset and called News 12. I didn’t understand why we were kicked out. So then we used our own backyard for classes [with children masked and well separated] and police served us a violation. ... They said we should have not run the business in our home.

You resumed in-person classes late last summer, how has business been since?

Every member who stayed with us in Zoom during COVID received an additional $240 discount during renewal toward tuition. This is our way to support families and thank them. Parents still participate in classes. Because some people are scared to return to the building, every class is streamed online. We can only operate at 33% capacity, which is impossible to make a living on. This summer we are opening a Virtual Camp and Meet Ups for parents and children. I am positive. My husband and I do meditation and things to feed our minds and spirit. We need to be strong for our clients. We’re family.

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