By Deborah Kania
As of the end of July, Empower Taekwondo, a martial arts school located in James City, still remains closed due to COVID-19. This business is considered a gym and there is no plan to reopen these types of businesses anytime soon.
With the assistance of the Craven Community College (Craven CC) Small Business Center, Master Hama Alzouma opened his dream business just one year ago with an August 2019 grand opening event. Just prior to closure in March, he was teaching over 60 students.
This business provides Master Hama with his livelihood, and he provides employment for a few part-time employees. Recently, he was turned down for the Small Business Administration (SBA) critical funding that could help him manage through the crisis. He recently stopped paying himself so he could ensure he could continue paying his staff. A few parents have been volunteering to help him with various duties so he could remain in business.
So, this business owner did what he had to do to continue his passion of developing character and leadership by teaching Taekwondo. With health and safety as a priority, he began holding martial arts classes outdoors in the 90-degree heat at a local park Monday through Thursday evenings. He teaches a fraction of the number of students he did earlier in the year.
Master Hama’s original start-up business plan included offering afterschool programs and summer camps, with a focus on martial arts. However, in June, with advice from one of the parents, he began holding traditional style summer camps for kids at his school—following health and safety precautions. Other camps in the area had been canceled or had limited capacity. So, this presented a good opportunity for him to provide parents with a much-needed traditional camp in the area. He has about a dozen campers attend each week.
A parent who is very thankful that he continued his classes is Yetta Elliott. She enrolled her two daughters, Mea (10) and Gianna (7), in February. Mea and Gianna had been taking classes in Florida before their military family relocated to New Bern last year. When the stay-at-home orders came, they did classes online at first. Elliott said that they were okay but not as good as in-person classes. “My girls are very happy to go. I’m happy because they are happy,” said Elliott.
The COVID-19 closure and lack of disaster funding aren’t the first challenges Master Hama experienced in the first year of business. Part of his marketing strategy was to work with an adjacent business that serves families with children. Within a few months, that business closed. Plus, in a few months, the U.S. Hwy 70 construction will begin and this will present other challenges to his business.
Prior to opening his business, Master Hama came to the United States from Niger, Africa. He came in 2011 to train for the 2012 and 2016 Olympics. He made New Bern his new home to continue training and traveling to compete internationally in at least 25 countries.
There were many challenges ahead at that time. The first one is that he didn’t communicate in English. He also had to learn American culture and how businesses operate in a country that was very different from his own. In addition to working at the YMCA as an instructor, he was taking English as a Second Language (ESL) and other college classes at Craven CC.
Master Hama continues to hold steadfast to his goals and plan as a true competitor. “I have never felt like giving up. Never. Not one minute,” he said. He acknowledges that putting his clients’ needs over his own will help his business succeed. He attributes his present survival and future success to all who have supported him through his journey.
His future immediate plans include offering a new “School Support Program” to working parents who need childcare because of the new modified 2020-21 school schedule. Empower Taekwondo will support and help children attend their school online, complete their work and have fun. In fact, one of his newest employees who will help him with this new program is Elliot. She will bring her skills and experience as a previous homeschool parent of her daughters.
Each time a new obstacle to his success presents itself, Master Hama always replies with a really wide smile and says, “It’s going to be okay.”
For more information about Empower Taekwondo, visit www.empower-tkd.com, email email@example.com or call 252-649-8452. For more information about the Small Business Center at Craven CC, visit www.cravencc.edu/sbc, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 252-638-1166.