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May 05, 1991|SUSAN PATERNO

First say no to gangs, drugs and teen-age pregnancy. Then party!

Is this any way to solve the problems of today's troubled youths?

Yes, says Karista Cook, 15, who will open Southern California's second annual Teen Expo on Wednesday at Cal State Long Beach with a song her sister wrote, "I Don't Need You No More."

More than 100 professionals in health care, business, entertainment and education will give talks, seminars and interviews to more than 8,000 teen-agers expected to attend the four-day fair. The aim: "To help battle against gangs, drugs and teen-age pregnancy by bringing young people in contact with programs to help them," organizers say.

Dean Butler, best known for his roles as Almanzo Wilder in "Little House on the Prairie" and Moondoggie in "The New Gidget," will be the emcee. Joining him over the course of the expo will be Edward James Olmos, star of "Stand and Deliver," Deidre Hall of "General Hospital" and KNBC anchor John Beard.

Entertainment will be provided by gang member-turned-comic D.L. Hughley, who was in "48 Hours," Latino rockers Soto, Kids of Rock Theatre and, of course, Karista Cook.

"This type of thing definitely helps kids!" Cook said. It certainly helped her. Last year, Cook won the expo talent contest and a place on the television show "Star Search." As a consequence, "I got one call from a record company," she said. "We're still negotiating."

Karista was 4 when she started singing at Calvary Baptist Church in Palm Springs, went on to "Oliver," "Sound of Music" and "The Princess and the Pea," and has only one ambition in life, "to sing and act!" she said.

What about school? Math? History? English? "I'd rather play the piano," she said, giggling. She is currently enrolled at Sky High School in Yucca Valley, where she lives, and plans to graduate this year.

Cook thinks Teen Expo gives youths a chance they otherwise would not have. "There are a lot of really ambitious kids out there who want to sing and act, but adults don't take them seriously. They have no hope. So they turn to gangs and drugs."

At Teen Expo, though, "they have a place to get away and have some fun. Otherwise, what is there to do? Go to school." She thought for a second. "Unless you have a driver's license and you can go to Disneyland."

Expo organizers will bus 2,000 Los Angeles County teen-agers Wednesday, Thursday and Friday to Cal State Long Beach; only students from preregistered schools will be admitted on those days. On Saturday, though, admission is free and open to anyone from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Programs include seminars on pregnancy, narcotics, steroids, AIDS, self-esteem, jobs and learning disabilities, along with competitions in writing, debate and talent. Industry professionals will judge the talent contest in various categories, from classical music to rap and gospel singing.

Entertainment continues nonstop on Saturday, as does free food and soft drinks, at the Student Union on the university campus, 1250 Bellflower Blvd., Long Beach. For more information, call (818) 989-7001.

No gang colors allowed.

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