Seasons Givings: South LA kids make PALs with LAPD (Photos)

LAPD PAL Program - 1

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Seven-year-old Perla Bazaldua, left, stretches with PAL Fit coach Ronnie Teasdale during a CrossFit Tuesdays class on Dec. 11 in the underground parking garage at the Newton Police Station. The class is free for local kids, and is a part of the Police Activity League, a crime prevention program for community youth.

LAPD PAL Program - 2

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PAL Officer Edward Andalis, left, and supervisors Sgts. James Townsend and Manuel Ramirez watch as kids run laps through the parking garage on Tuesday evening.

LAPD PAL Program - 3

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Eight-year-old Guiermo Reyes, left, does push-ups as PAL supervisor Sgt. James Townsend watches kids warm up during the 5 p.m. class.

LAPD PAL Program - 4

Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Kids do cartwheels after running during an exercise drill. The Newton Division Police Activities League also offers martial arts, boxing, yoga, and gardening, among many other activities for kids in the community.

LAPD PAL Program - 5

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Chriztec Bazaldua, 8, and Carlos Orea, 10, rest in between sit-ups. The activity programs are open to kids between 8 and 18 years old.

LAPD PAL Program - 6

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Ronnie Teasdale talks to kids after the hour-long class on Tuesday, Dec. 11. Teasdale is a well known CrossFit athlete.

LAPD PAL Program - 7

Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Kids spread out on a mat before doing stretches at the start of a CrossFit Tuesdays class. The PAL program also has events throughout the year. Before Christmas, officers will take kids to Pershing Square for ice skating, all free of charge.

LAPD PAL Program - 8

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Coach Ronnie Teasdale uses his iPhone to generate random tasks for kids, like 10 push-ups, 8 squats, and 9 sit-ups.

LAPD PAL Program - 9

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Teasdale works with kids on a tricep pull, one of the last activities of the day. The Koreatown Booster Association donated gym equipment to the PAL program.

LAPD PAL Program - 10

Maya Sugarman/KPCC

The underground garage is also used for the boxing and martial arts classes. Anyone can volunteer with the LAPD Newton PAL program.

This post is part of KPCC's "Season's Givings" series, chronicling volunteer experiences  and opportunities during the holiday season. View a full listing of charities that could use your help and let us know your holiday volunteer story!

The makeshift training area underneath the LAPD's Newton Division isn't much. That's because it's also the police station's underground parking garage. Among the police cruisers, there's a big mat, a couple of punching bags and assorted strength-and-conditioning equipment.

There's also Ronnie Teasdale.

"OK, you're going to do a sit-up and touch your toes, all right?" he yells to a group of about 20 children. They're all lined up around a mat, waiting for his instructions. When he says go, some kids yell enthusiastically, while others collapse in a fit of giggling.

It's not the crowd Teasdale is used to working with. The 30-year-old physical fitness instructor owns a Crossfit gym downtown.

"Crossfit is a methodology that tries to get people as fit as possible," he says. "So we do varied movements, varied time domains and varied intensities; we do different stuff every single day, pretty much. If you see our gym, there are rings hanging from the ceiling, ropes, tractor tires."

But right now, Teasdale isn't at his downtown gym. He's with the young participants of Newton's Police Activity League (PAL). For these South L.A. children, PAL is the only activity they have besides school.

“We're teaching the kids movements necessary for life," said Teasdale. "That's the same thing we do in our gym. At PAL, though, we're in the bottom of a parking garage and we don't have all the equipment necessary to do that. But we make do with what we have.”

Each LAPD division has its own PAL program, and Newton's, like many others, relies on volunteers. It's not just Crossfit; there are other organized physical activities, as well as tutoring and field trips. For most of the kids in the neighborhood, none of that would be possible without PAL.

Newton officers in charge of the program solicit contributors who can donate their time or supplies – like they did with Teasdale back in February. They just wanted to see if he could spare any equipment, but Teasdale offered himself. At his gym, he says, he sees all kinds of people, especially since he’s surrounded by downtown's bars.

“On a daily basis, I see what I don't want kids to grow up to be," he says. "To be able to be a positive influence and get their minds focused on healthy habits is a good thing.”

Robert Sale, who trains amateur and professional boxers, also volunteers with the program. Every Saturday, in the same parking garage, he teaches the kids to box.

“This sport, specifically boxing, is connected to the lower socioeconomic stratified community," he says. "It's always been that way because it's a rugged, tough sport. It requires a lot of self-discipline. It's just a tough sport."

Sale, 45, started volunteering as a favor to an LAPD buddy. Now, he calls it the most rewarding part of his personal life, and like Teasdale, doesn’t charge or demand anything in return for his time.

“Those kids really, really, really appreciate the time, the investment," he says. "There's so little for them down in that community. In all seriousness, I consider myself the beneficiary of this program, to be permitted to be involved in [the] program.”

For his part, Teasdale considers himself a “serviceman,” and says since he has a gym full of people that pay him, he doesn’t need anything from the kids.

“I really just want to do it," he says. "It just seems right to me. There was never a mentor that I had, and [now] I'm kind of paying back the system – that's not the case. I just like it."

The PAL kids seem to like it, too.

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