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Robbyn Mitchell: “Believe In Yourself!”

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Handstands, cartwheels, somersaults and tumbling have packed Robbyn Mitchell’s life. As a youngster in San Jose, California, Robbyn claimed the top spot in several national gymnastics categories. Now, she has transferred her love of the sport into the ownership of The Little Gym of Kansas City North, Missouri, which specializes in unique educational classes that revolve around active play for kids.

“We strongly believe in inspiring children to develop and grow in a positive, non-competitive environment. Being The Little Gym owner is a dream come true for us, and we are humbled by the opportunity to influence the development of your children,” stated Robbyn. “We are focused on preparing kids for life adventures and that’s positive not only for the children but for families and the community. We want to help develop well-rounded,
confident kids.”

The Little Gym of Kansas City North, Missouri, 6120 Northwest 63rd Terrace, Kansas City, serves children, ages four months to 12 years old, in the Kansas City, Parkville, Liberty, Gladstone, Tiffany Springs, Leavenworth and surrounding communities. Robbyn and her husband, Ke’Lan, are co-owners of the business that features activities for kids to simultaneously develop their physical, cognitive and life skills. The Little Gym offers Robbyn the perfect outlet to combine her passion for children and gymnastics into one nurturing experience.

Nurturing Approach
According to The Little Gym website, more than 40 years ago, Robin Wes, educator, musician and kinesiologist, created the concept of a nurturing place where children could explore their physical development while also growing socially, emotionally and intellectually. He opened the first The Little Gym in 1976 in Bellevue, Washington, and infused those early classes with the same positive, non-competitive spirit that characterizes the company today.

“There are more than 400 franchises in over 30 countries, with Scottsdale, Arizona, as the headquarters. It’s a very rigorous selection process to be granted a franchise. Ke’Lan and I found a suitable building location and then applied for the franchise in March 2019. We had an intense interview process in June of that year at The Little Gym headquarters. In February 2020, we signed the paperwork and started construction of our facility, and July 4 was opening day. Fifty students were enrolled by the second day of operation.”

Even though complications from COVID-19 tumbled into Robbyn’s plans, she would not be deterred and created strategies to meet regulations. Part of that included minimizing the number of children who can be accommodated to 330 students, or ten to eleven students per class. “We want parents and the kids to feel safe and that they’re not taking a risk, and we’re constantly evaluating the community,” she noted. “We clean during every single class, take temperature checks at the door and offer cleaning stations to wash hands.”

Happy Handstands
Growing up in San Jose, California, Robbyn spent the majority of her younger years as a competitive gymnast. “I have a strong background in gymnastics. I started at the age of seven with competing and practiced six days out of the week,” she said. “That level of dedication isn’t for everyone but gymnastics taught me so much. In 2001, I placed first in vault, balance beam, floor exercise and All Around in the Level 9 Western Championships.”

She left the sport after high school to focus on higher education, yet her passion for gymnastics never diminished. She joined the Maroon Tigers cheerleading team at Morehouse College as she picked up a dual degree in engineering from Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia, and a bachelor of industrial and systems engineering degree from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in Greensboro, North Carolina. During her undergrad years, she worked at The Little Gym of Greensboro, North Carolina. Robbyn notes that working at The Little Gym allowed her to continue her love of gymnastics while also developing kids for life. But as she completed college, the corporate world came calling.

Hallmark lured her into an 18-year career focused on industrial engineering, during which she spent time at different facilities. She led lean manufacturing, process improvement and kaizen events from 2008 to 2012. Then she went to corporate until 2018 to work on demand and inventory planning as a senior allocation strategist. While pregnant with her son and obtaining her MBA, she yearned for the opportunity to work more with children. Robbyn and Ke’Lan looked for learning opportunities for their 18-month-old son and discovered The Little Gym of Kansas City, Kansas, in 2017. Being back in The Little Gym environment sparked Robbyn’s passions, and the pull was just too strong. She left her corporate job to become the curriculum director at The Little Gym, Prairie Village, Kansas.

“But I decided I wanted to have my own business when I realized there were no activities for kids in the Northland area. That needed to change, not just for my own children but also for the kids in the community,” recalled Robbyn. “Opening The Little Gym was driven by my love for children, gymnastics and my background in engineering. I combined them into one area and that’s how The Little Gym came to be. We want children not just to come to the gym but to learn that they don’t have to be the best but try their best. We want to instill confidence.”

Cartwheels for Learning
The Little Gym of Kansas City North, Missouri, located in The Village at Burlington Creek, features a fun environment but the purpose is life-changing. According to Robbyn, The Little Gym focuses on a proprietary viewpoint called Three-Dimensional Learning, in which physical activity is a conduit for nurturing the whole child. Every class fosters growth in three all-inclusive dimensions: Brain Boost, Get Moving and Citizen Kid.

“Get Moving is about developing flexibility, strength, balance and coordination through varied physical activities. Brain Boost nurtures listening skills, concentration and decision-making that benefits a child well beyond the gym,” stated Robbyn. “Citizen Kid promotes sharing, teamwork, cooperation and leadership through spending time with a kid’s friends and peers. We teach that it’s good to be kind and work as a team in cooperation and help your friends and others. Everything ties into this as we nurture the whole child with the gym as the foundation for brain-boosting.”

Vaulting Ahead for Others
Robbyn not only takes great pride in her work to build the next generation, but she also recognizes the role she has taken for young Black entrepreneurs. “I do see myself as somewhat of a pioneer and someone who took a leap of faith,” shared Robbyn. “There aren’t many of us out there that have the means and resources to do what I’m doing. I feel honored that I’m paving the way for someone else.”

While she is honored to be a role model for other young Black female entrepreneurs, she has also been challenged by the COVID-19 pandemic, which delayed the opening of her company and forced changes to the operating plan. “We came up against some barriers such as not receiving assistance for the business due to the fact we weren’t open in 2019,” she recalled. “It seemed that the virus had taken so much from us, and we’re still seeking funding and grants and support from families, the county and city. But we continue to move forward with The Little Gym. My parents and grandparents have been such a support in this business venture, and we know that we will succeed with their prayers and confidence regardless of the obstacles.”

While she’s been a business owner for a short period of time, Robbyn mixes that knowledge with her long-term corporate experience, especially opportunities to improve the business environment. Yet, she realizes the key to success is the person making everything happen.

“Don’t forget to believe in yourself and take action; you can’t just sit there. You have to act to make progress and put in the hard work to go along with the faith. No one will work harder than you to achieve your dream, and I’m working my dream. Don’t let someone else tell you what they think you can do,” she advised. “Even though you can work 24/7 as an entrepreneur, don’t lose sight of spending time with family, and don’t forget to be passionate about your work. For me, it’s serious fun.”

Robbyn’s goal is to fully open her current facility and then expand into other cities in the area. She is driven by the mission that every kid deserves The Little Gym in their life. “Your children will truly grow from The Little Gym experience, and they’re safe here,” commented Robbyn. “You don’t have to be a Kamden or Elijah. You can be shy or energetic at The Little Gym. The important thing is that you can be the child that you are.”