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ORANGE COUNTY VOICES : Helping to Keep Youngsters on Right Path : A recent dinner raised more than $300,000 for the Drug Use Is Life Abuse and Celebrities For a Drug-Free America programs. The affair was organized and presented by local residents and entertainment figures. Here are some reasons why such fund-raisers are necessary.

December 20, 1991|BEN VEREEN | Ben Vereen is an actor and entertainer, and as the spokesperson for Celebrities for a Drug-Free America travels the country meeting with adults and children. and

Last month in Orange County, a dream came true. Drug Use Is Life Abuse and Celebrities For a Drug-Free America hosted our first gala dinner to raise funds for the war against drugs. Many of my celebrity friends, including Linda Blair, Gabrielle Carteris, Danny Glover, John Goodman, Robert Guillaume, Florence Henderson, Anthony Hopkins, Angela Lansbury, Lee Purcell, Charlotte Rae, Della Reese, Debbie Reynolds, Bruce Weitz and Rob Weller, came out to support the effort put forth by the Orange County and Hollywood community.

The dinner brought in over $300,000 to be divided by the two organizations. All of this could not have come to reality had it not been for the "angels" that came forward two years ago and committed to the dream. People in Orange County like: Kathryn Thompson, Sheriff Brad Gates, Mike Hayde, and the (group's) wonderful staff under the direction of Julie Holt; my manager, Pamela Cooper, whose belief in the dream never wavered and for her vision to produce an evening that would entrance the hardest of critics, and Brad Cassil, whose tireless efforts brought together the celebrities. And all of the believers and dedicated people who not only came out that evening, but contributed large donations to this commitment to fight this war, like the (John) Creans and many others.

Why the need for a fund-raiser to fight drugs? Isn't that what we pay taxes for? Those are some of the questions that you might hear when the topic of drugs comes up. People have been inundated with scare tactics to the point that most of us have tuned out or are turned off. And maybe that's what the great plan is: to turn you away from the problem that lurks over our country like a dark cloud.

Some say, "Maybe if we ignore the problem, it will go away." But the truth is we need fund-raisers because there is not enough money coming from government to address this problem that is attacking our communities on a daily basis. It is your neighborhoods that are at risk here. It may look like it's around the corner, or on the other side of the tracks, but drugs are like the locust--destroying as they go along.

You may feel that you and yours are immune to the problem because you live in a secure neighborhood, or because your family is very close and you share everything, or that your background is a loving one. But our children grow up and will enter into another world that may not be so friendly and loving. Peer pressure has spoiled many a young person.

So you and I must become like John the Baptist, a voice crying in the wilderness, and prepare the way for them. We cannot protect them from everything, but at least we can give them the tools and the information they will need to live that drug-free lifestyle. We can provide a place for those who slip along the way and put them back into life, giving them that second chance with loving understanding that we are all God's children and are apt to fall now and then. But maybe not that often with our help.

It's about the future of our great country.

It's about the young people having a drug-free opportunity to fulfill not only their dreams but ours as well.

It's about giving them that God-given right by birth, a chance to go forward in grace with all the tools they need.

It's about supporting their goals and protecting that (birth) right.

A recent USA Today article on young people in Indianapolis revealed that they have to be searched before they are allowed in school because so many kids are carrying guns. The search, students say, makes them feel safer in school. This is true of many schools in America. Teachers and students in many areas are afraid for their very lives.

What are we going to do about the fact that our schools are no longer a safe haven? Throughout America, one in three high school students carries a weapon of some kind to school. Up to 135,000 guns are brought to school each day. There have been 65 students and six school workers killed to date. Most of these cases are gang- or drug-related. But the fact remains, the future of the country is in danger.

What can we do about this danger? Well, efforts like last month's gala in Orange County, people coming together for a common cause, are a great step in the right direction. We can begin to support those young people everywhere, making a difference in their lives, as well as in their communities. We could put them on the front pages more often when they have gone that extra mile in their achievements, not just in sports.

So often the media portrays youth in a negative light. If Tom wins the world spelling bee, maybe it gets on the last page, in small print. But if Tom is caught selling drugs or is in a gun battle, it gets on the front page. I'm not blaming the media. They're doing their job reporting the news. It's more of a sad statement of our value system. It would be nice if the good seed got more attention than the bad seed. Then maybe we would see new heroes coming up--everywhere.

Let's put the nature of God first, which is absolute good, and spread love instead of hate.

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