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Toreano Norris endeavors to promote healthy family recreation time

Fri, 30 Sep 2016 22:01:00
Article by:
Laurie MacDougall
Toreano Norris and family. [Left to right:] Satise, Lori and Zachary Norris, with his niece in front. Family photo courtesy of Toreano Norris.
A sticker on the back of Toreano Norris’ smartphone bears a drawing of a bumble bee with the word “present” underneath. When he wants time out from his busy schedule to spend with his family, he puts his smartphone facedown on the table with the sticker facing up to remind him to “bee present.”
   
Clearly, Toreano is a devoted and thoughtful family man. He has spent considerable time thinking about the dilemma faced by every parent — how to negotiate the hectic time demands of modern life with the need to spend quality time with a growing family. The importance of family time, unrushed, uninterrupted, unmediated, is apparent to Toreano, and follows from growing up in a family of educators. “My mom, aunt and sister? All teachers. Coming from that sort of environment, I recognize the value of family time. It’s always been important, a huge sense of pride to me, to spend time with my family doing simple things.”
   
This has led Toreano, with two friends, to co-found KangaZoom, a youth entertainment center that fills an important community need for a safe environment that allows all ages — from toddlers to adults and everything in between — to play together, to spend quality time together, and to “bee present” with one another. KangaZoom opened just last month in Antioch, in East Contra Costa County.
   
It all began when his longtime friend, Marcus Jefferson, lost his wife unexpectedly. Like the good friend that he is, Toreano jumped in to help him find a new direction for his life. Together with a third partner, Jesse Rivas, the friends realized they shared a mission, to provide a place for families to spend time together, something that did not exist in East Contra Costa County where they all lived and had raised their families.
   
The partners saw a need — Antioch is home to more residents 18 years of age or under than any other place in the county. And they saw an opportunity — there were lots of entertainment options, but they were all specific to distinct age groups. The partners stuck to their vision. According to Toreano, “We wanted to create something that could bring the whole family together. There was no place before that served all age groups. We wanted to create something all-encompassing.” A major influence for Toreano was being raised in Oakland where, he says, full-family fun was a 5-minute drive, or a 15-minute bus ride away. “Our whole family often went to the Oakland Zoo or to Fairyland. There was nothing like that out here in East Contra Costa County.”
   
They began what would turn out to be a long search for exactly what they envisioned. They found KangaZoom, a franchise operation specializing in bound installations and children’s parties that was very appealing, but only for a small segment of the community they wanted to serve. With its child-friendly ambiance, it was ideal for toddlers and younger children, but suffered from the same disadvantage of the other age-specific options that already existed. What about “tweeners” and teens? While the partners loved what KangaZoom had to offer, their vision was much larger.
   
As Toreano describes the “ah hah” moment — “For a long time we couldn’t find a space that would enable us to encompass all ages. Then we found the old Golf & Games site.”
   
Golf & Games had been famous in its day for a go-cart track and many rooms full of cacophonous video games — a teen-age paradise, but very age-specific, so at first glance far from what the partners were envisioning. Occupying 3.33 acres, with a building measuring 7,540 square feet, it had sat vacant and unused for over 5 years before the partners found it. On the plus side, the space had lots and lots of interesting options to offer the fertile imaginations of the founders.
   
After extensive renovation and re-thinking the potential of the space, KangaZoom now houses a wide variety of active entertainment activities: six batting cages (fastball and softball); 36 holes of mini-golf; two birthday party rooms; a toddler play area, and a number of bouncy rooms —  including an obstacle course jumpy, Dora jumpy, slide jumpy and a wrecking ball jumpy; a select selection of video games, paying homage to the Golf & Games history; and a snack bar featuring kid-friendly food. As Toreano puts it, “Outside serves ‘tweeners’ and teens and adults. Inside, little kids do what they do best, which is jump and hop and run without stop.”
   
And for adults, free Wi-Fi is an option. This is a tricky issue, however, as the presence of the Wi-Fi is a great benefit for adults, but the founders do not intend it to be a way adults can forget to “bee present” at KangaZoom.
   
With the public grand opening last month, the largest part of the original vision is fulfilled — KangaZoom is the first, and only, one-stop family fun center in the area, chock full of entertainment options for the whole range of ages and interests in a growing family. It’s a place where every family member is covered by some suitable activity.
   
But there’s another dimension to the vision that is very important to Toreano, one that will be developed in the future, when after-school programs have been incorporated into the space. For example, when the party rooms are not being used for parties, they can be used by teachers for tutoring, or other after-school activities to serve local youths. Toreano’s family background comes through loud and clear when he talks about the educational possibilities of KangaZoom. “We want to utilize the space to create a learning environment. We’re already in contact with schools in the area to explore what they need, to see where there’s a fit.”
   
Toreano acknowledges his passion for education.“I guess education is in my DNA. I got into retail management by accident. I started at Home Depot as a cashier and kept getting promoted to managerial positions. I worked my way up in retail management for nearly 20 years. What I enjoyed most was developing talent, training and bringing out the best in employees. I guess I found my way to be an educator.”
   
This background and his particular skills have influenced the business plan for KangaZoom. “We’ve created a team to operate KangaZoom. I believe in developing talent, finding people who want to see kids have fun, training them in our way of thinking and operating and, giving them a feeling of ownership in us as a start-up.” As an example, one of the way KangaZoom recruits raw talent is by working with different organizations that serve veterans.
   
What does the future hold? According to Toreano, “The long-term dream is to see this grow into what we can be, taking this model to other areas that need it, expanding learning activities and opportunities for active play.” For example, the space that used to house the go-cart track is currently unused. However, according to Toreano, “We’re not bringing back the go-carts, but ideas we’re bouncing around include an expanded BBQ and picnic area, and a radio-controlled car track.”
   
But these are details. The partners held on to their original vision, and it has been realized.  Wherever the dream takes the original concept in the future, KangaZoom in Antioch will always foster the goal to “bee present” with your family, whenever you possibly can.
   
KangaZoom is open every day from noon to 8 p.m. at 501 Auto Center Drive in Antioch, and the telephone number is 925.776.4386.

 
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