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Getting kids moving at the mall

Fitness: Buff Buddies in Valencia offers fun exercises for kids while their parents shop

Posted: December 9, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: December 9, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Scottie Bahler, vice president of operations, left, encourages Luke Clendening, 4, as he plays in an obstacle course at Buff Buddies at Westfield Valencia Town Center.

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She shoots; she scores. All that’s missing is an announcer screaming, “goal,” as Natalia Schwan, 12, of Saugus, plays a rousing game of soccer at Buff Buddies, located inside Westfield Valencia Town Center mall.

On this night, the athletic Natalia is challenging the store’s owner, David Cain, to a game.

Though he was losing, Cain high-fived the youngster every time she made a goal.

Natalia’s mother, Teresa, watched her daughter proudly from the sidelines.

“Natalia loves this place. She can get all her energy out, and has a blast while we shop,” Teresa Schwan said. “It’s inexpensive, and the kids are safe. I really like the concept.”

It was the Schwans’ third time to Buff Buddies, which offers a Drop N’ Shop option for parents at $5 a half-hour or $10 an hour.

Inside the colorful store, a host of active games await the young clientele, including dodge ball, a bounce house, an obstacle course, tumbling mat, jousting, basketball and a climbing structure.

Cain came up with the idea for Buff Buddies five years ago in La Canada, when his daughter’s physical-education classes were cut from her school’s curriculum.

“It all started with a bag of balls and a field. Eventually, we opened up a center at an old school site,” Cain said.

He opened Buff Buddies at the mall this October. “We came out to Valencia because there are a lot of families here. It’s been very well-received so far. Both the kids and parents are happy,” Cain said.

The Buff Buddies mission is to get youngsters moving and combat the growing childhood obesity epidemic across the country.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, approximately 17 percent (or 12.5 million) of children and adolescents aged 2—19 years are obese. Since 1980, obesity prevalence among children and adolescents has almost tripled.

These numbers are of great concern to Cain.

“Exercise should be important to everyone. So many kids do nothing but sit and play Xbox or go on the computer. There are 20-somethings out there with the arteries of a 60-year old,” Cain said. “Our bodies are built to move, not to stare at Yahoo all day.”

The CDC exercise recommendations for children includes 60 minutes a day of aerobic and muscle- and bone-strengthening activity.

“It’s so important that kids get moving and keep playing. There’s nothing wrong with playing. It can actually save their life,” Cain said. “I’ve read that in 18 more years, 50 percent of Americans will be overweight or obese. That’s a startling statistic.”

Fernando Adriano, of Valencia, hoisted his son Jahaziel, up to the door of bounce house at Buff Buddies and smiled broadly as the 5-year-old began to cavort with some newfound friends.

“I just saw this place. It’s pretty cool, and ideal for my boy. We’re trying to strengthen his core, since he was born with some disabilities,” Adriano said. “It feels safe, like he can have fun without my worrying. He can just play.”

Safety is of utmost concern to Cain and his Buff Buddies employees.

Parents sign a liability waiver before play commences, and each child’s name is recorded in a check-in sheet.

The store is staffed with at least two people on weekdays, with four or more on busy weekends.

“We’re very careful about who we allow in here. If it looks like someone doesn’t belong, they won’t be here. We’re on top of that,” Cain said. “No one gets in and out without us knowing.”

In addition to the Drop N’ Shop option, Buff Buddies offers a birthday party special: $350 includes an hour of play and lunch at Red Robin for up to 20 kids (and two adults).

“That’s the best deal in town,” Cain said. “It’s about $100 less than any competitor.”

Cain hopes to expand Buff Buddies at malls across the country, and is currently pitching an interactive live show to a Southern California amusement park.

If Natalia is any indication, Buff Buddies could very well become a hit.

“It’s awesome. I love coming here,” she said. “You have fun and play, and the staff keeps you safe. I’m really into it.”

Buff Buddies is located at the Valencia Westfield Town Center and is open during mall hours. For more information, visit www.buffbuddies.com or call (818) 500-9800.

msathe@the-signal.com

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