Pubdate: Fri, 03 Nov 2006
Source: Journal Advocate, The (Sterling, CO)
Copyright: 2006 MediaNews Group, Inc.
Author: John Mangalonzo


Beauty Queen Warns of Beastly Impact of Drugs on Youth

MERINO - Her carriage - an OH-58 helicopter. Her entourage - the U.S. 
Army National Guard and the Drug Enforcement Administration. Her 
audience - pupils at Merino Elementary School.

Miss Colorado USA 2007 Keena Bonella on Wednesday proved that not 
only does she have beauty and brains but also the desire to use her 
new-found fame in educating young minds. Her mission: The knowledge 
that right choices can lead to many positive things in life.

The right choice message she brought into the Merino school is 
awareness on the many dangers of illegal drug use.

In conjunction with the DEA, National Guard and local law 
enforcement, Bonella, the 21-year-old Grand Junction native, said 
that it's never too early to teach children about the drug menace and 
provide them with the tools to "say no" to peer pressure involving 
the use of illicit drugs.

Bonella, who had been touring different venues within the state, said 
that this is probably the last week they are going to be doing such an event.

"It's all for a good cause. I just talk to kids that dreams do come 
true, if they make the right choices in life," Bonella said.

Bonella won the title back in September. She will be representing 
Colorado in the Miss USA pageant in April.

"If we can reach just one child, then we have done our job," Bonella 
said as she greeted the many school children who had gathered around 
her to ask for her autograph.

As the cold wind blew and the rays of the sun reflected through her 
tiara, Bonella told the pupils about her success by choosing not to use drugs.

The pupils, from preschool to sixth grade, were in awe of the 
helicopter, which landed in the middle of the football field. They 
flocked to ask U.S. Army National Guard Chief Warrant Officer Donny 
O'Connor about being a helicopter pilot.

O'Connor said that the pupils asked where the helicopter guns were 
and if he had ever been in a war or if he had crashed before.

The pilot who graciously answered the pupils' questions said that the 
presence of uniformed men and women, including a beauty queen is a 
great educational draw for the children.

"This brings information to children that they don't ordinarily get," 
DEA Agent Todd Gregory said. "It's always good to start early."

Guardsman Michael Martich said that the event not only brings 
authoritative figures such as firefighters, DEA and the army to the 
children, but also to see how one community works together in the 
fight against illegal drugs.

"We care about the community and it's one way of bringing back 
something to the community," Martich said.

"It's a different perspective of what the teachers teach the kids," 
Merino Elementary School Principal Kyle Stumpf said.

Stumpf, like his guests, said that educating children at an early age 
on the dangers and consequences of using and being hooked on illegal 
drugs is a factor in securing a better future.

"Having Miss Colorado, DEA, sheriff's office and the National Guard 
helps out a lot," Stumpf said.

The event, tagged as Red Ribbon Week, is a significant resource law 
enforcement, school officials and others have to reinforce their drug 
awareness campaign in schools all over the nation.

The Red Ribbon symbol is in honor of fallen DEA agent Enrique "Kiki" 
Camarena, who worked undercover in a major drug cartel in Mexico, a 
drug distribution syndicate the DEA believed to be tainted by corrupt 
Mexican authorities.

The DEA reported that in February 1985, the 37-year-old Camarena left 
his office to meet his wife for lunch when five men appeared at the 
agent's side and shoved him in a car. One month later, Camarena's 
body was found in a shallow grave. He had been tortured to death.

According to the Texas Commission on Drug Abuse Web site, a short 
time after his death, friends and neighbors began to wear red badges 
of satin in honor of Camarena's memory and his battle against illegal 
drugs. A tradition was born, a tradition of education that spread 
like wildfire throughout the nation.

Bonella said the fact is, drugs are a deadly menace plaguing the 
nation - and the world - for quite some time now, and reaching and 
teaching children about its dangers is a goal very close to her heart.

As the helicopter engine roared like an awakened dragon in the middle 
of the football field, the children cheered for their heroes, people 
who hopefully made a lasting impression on their young minds.
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