Mad about youth: Madtown Fitness lifts up kids with free classes
When one thinks of kids having summer fun, the first images that might pop up involve sunshine and open air.
However, one local business is providing the fun to Jefferson County youth while keeping them inside — at least for an hour, anyway.
For the past six weeks, Joe Robbins, the owner of Madtown Fitness, has been holding free classes for a group of local youths at his downtown Madras gym. The goal is not just to give kids something to do in the summer months; he also wants to help build fitness literacy.
Robbins notes that many young people don't know their way around the gym. Whether a lack of exposure, funds, time, or a combination thereof, there are numerous reasons why someone might not touch a piece of exercise equipment until adulthood. Some students may take strength and conditioning classes in high school, but not everyone. Either way, just about everybody could benefit from a bit more time in the gym.
"We just noticed a need," said Robbins. "I actually run a senior fitness group in here right before this one, so it's not hard to think about bringing in the kids to do the same thing. We thought, 'How great would this be?'"
"There's just not enough fitness around this town," he added, though not as a dig at Madras or Jefferson County in particular. "There can never be enough."
Joe is not the only Robbins on the case, either. Jennifer Robbins is one of the instructors at Madtown Fitness, and she helps with the free classes. The husband-and-wife team make for a well-oiled machine, keeping classes on a regimented schedule that begins with some calisthenics warm-ups before moving on to 20 different stations around the gym. While Jennifer does hands-on work leading the warm-up and guiding the kids in their physical exercises, Joe paces about the floor and works on keeping their minds active, too.
Against the clanking and clattering of exercise machines, Joe quickly transforms from trainer to trivia host. Meandering about between the machines, Joe reels off questions on random topics and students shout back their responses. For the last class before the Fourth of July, Robbins went for a patriotic theme. He quizzed the kids on the United States government and famous figures in American history.
Suddenly, the gym was half P.E. class, half civics class. And yet, these kids — who are only a few weeks into summer vacation — answered eagerly and celebrated their successes, both academic and athletic.
Going forward, Joe and Jennifer Robbins want to continue providing these free youth classes. It is important, they feel, that the Jefferson County community puts a focus on physical fitness from an early age. By removing registration costs from the equation, Joe hopes to remove any potential barriers for parents thinking twice about signing up their children for the classes.
So far, the plan has been successful. Robbins filled all 16 open slots for the first six-week summer class, which just wrapped up on June 29. Now, a second group of 16 gets ready for their own courses of the next six Tuesdays and Thursdays. Depending on interest from the community, there could be a third class to bridge the final gap between summer and fall.
"The idea was to get as many kids in here over the summer as possible," said the gym owner, who notes that a pleasant byproduct of the classes is a bit of free advertising. "We're building future gym members here. These kids that are about to hit high school, they're going to think of us first. But of course, we also want to give back to the community as much as we can."
Free workouts for the kids, free promotion for the gym. For Robbins, it was a clear win-win for all involved.
"It's a no-brainer," he said.
Robbins added that they are still waiting for more interest before locking into holding a third session later in the summer. If enough people show interest, however, Robbins indicated that the free classes will take place as planned.
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