"How many of you know what's going on in Japan?" Pau Gasol, forward for the Los Angeles Lakers and two-time World Champion asked an assembly of eager kids at Broadway Elementary School in Venice. The crowd said "awww" in response to the question. "An earthquake and a tsunami happened," a child answered. "That's sad," another stated.
Gasol visited the school on Wednesday as a part of MySafe:LA, a public safety initiative to teach about fire and earthquake preparedness. He echoed sentiments about the gravity of the situation across the Pacific, but turned to the proactive. "We can't control it, but you also need to know what you can do when you get yourself caught in a situation like that," he said. It's important to practice safety, he instructed, just like the Lakers practice for their games.
The kids sat on the edge of their seats.
Before Gasol's arrival, the children watched an instructional video of what to do during a fire, and counted down as a fireman suited up to full gear and sounded like "Darth Vadar" through his breathing mask. Gasol was greeted with a melee of cheers after an enthusiastic introduction from Captain Richard Fields of the Los Angeles Fire Department.
Gasol, clad in sweatpants and t-shirt, towered over the diverse group of children. After demonstrating a smoke alarm, he guided the kids through the three steps of earthquake safety, which included "drop, cover and hold." The kids crouched beside their chairs, but it was clear from their slightly confused responses that "stop, drop and roll" of fire safety had been drilled more regularly.
Director of MySafe:LA Cameron Barrett later explained that QuakeSmart:LA is a newer program. "What's happened to us in the last year? Chile, Japan, New Zealand. What's next? It could be Cascadia and Oregon or Washington, it could be the San Andreas," she cautioned.
Barrett founded MySafe:LA in January of 2009 with her husband David Barrett. They've taken their education program to more than 240 schools and reached more than 33,000 children.
After the auditorium presentation, Gasol addressed the press outside, provided autographs, toured the fire trucks with the kids, and even shot a few hoops on the sunny basketball courts. A native of Spain, Gasol pointedly delivered moments of his address in Spanish.
Representatives from the major donor organizations, which included the Fireman's Fund Insurance Company, AmWINS Group, Inc. and Arthur J. Gallagher & Co., proudly presented an enlarged check for over $40,000 to ensure the MySafe:LA program would continue.
As Captain Fields pointedly said to the children: "All of you are the real celebrities because what we're going to talk about today is you guys. And of everything that we're going to do today, guess who makes it happen?"
Hopefully having Pau Gasol as their teacher solidified the message.