Michael Donohue, owner and senior instructor at Martial Arts America in Hicksville, posed a simple question to 3-year-old Nicholas Cassata Friday night: “What is a stranger?”
Without hesitation, Nicholas pointed his tiny index finger right at Donohue, and the sixth-degree black belt smiled in agreement.
Lessons on avoiding danger can be taught to even the youngest among us, as Donohue demonstrated during a free Kid Safe presentation at his school on South Broadway. Donohue, 45, has run the Martial Arts America location for the past 18 years and donated his time teaching the Kid Safe program for the past 12. He estimates he’s taught more than 1,000 kids how to deal with “good strangers” and “bad strangers.”
Donohue explains that being a father of three is a big motivation for him to offer his time.
“I definitely would want them to be able to handle themselves in that kind of situation,” he said.
The 45-minute program was an eye-opener both for the kids and parents in attendance. For example, a kid yelling “No!” while being dragged away by the hand may just look like a bratty child being difficult for a parent. But if that same kid falls on his or her back, kicks at the person trying to take them and yells, “Stranger!” onlookers would know to get involved.
Donohue hopes none of the kids he teaches ever ends up in a life-or-death struggle. To that end he incorporates a “Green Light, Yellow Light, Red Light” lesson. The point is that kids don’t always have to be scared. But they do need to be aware enough of their surroundings to run if someone they don’t know approaches them in a toy aisle.
“We’ve had parents tell us that they remember [the lessons],” Donohue said. “They say, ‘We were in the mall, and they remembered and they saw someone they didn’t know and they walked the other way.’”
Playing the “bad stranger” Friday night was Hicksville’s Gary Lombardo, 55, a recently retired NYPD officer whose 7-year-old daughter, Sabrina, takes classes at the school.
“I know if a kid gets in a car with a stranger, it’s almost over,” said Lombardo, later adding, “Kids who come to this know that they don’t have to do karate [to protect themselves]. They just have to know the basics.”
For more on the Kid Safe program, call Martial Arts America at 516-932-5275.