Tractor Event Raises Funds, Drug Awareness

If you're wondering what kids, lawn tractors and abstinence have in common, try this on for size:

If you keep kids' days filled with fun activities, such as driving lawn tractors in a parking lot, there will be less time for them to get hooked on drugs.

That is the theory that works for Jim Aguirre, senior deputy for the Ventura County Sheriff's Department, who gave out DARE stickers and pencils to children at the Camarillo Kmart's third annual Ride Against Drugs on Saturday.

"I have a 15-year-old son and he does taekwondo and Civil War reenactments," Aguirre said in front of his DARE mobile, a black Wrangler Jeep seized from a local drug dealer. "You've got to keep them busy so they won't have the time to do drugs."

Last year, about 500 Kmart stores nationwide participated in the event, in which children drive Kmart lawn tractors, modified for safety, around a colorful racetrack. Each time a tractor crosses the finish line, Kmart donates $5 to DARE. The event raised $1.5 million in 1997, said Brian Wheeler, a Kmart team manager. The Camarillo store alone raised about $5,000, he said.

Donating money to a drug abstinence campaign also seemed like a smart idea to the dozens of children at Saturday's race.

"Drugs ruin your life," said 11-year-old Jenny Charland of Camarillo, who came with her father and two sisters.

Waiting for her turn to ride a tractor, sixth-grader Connie Cazares said she remembers many of the anti-drug lessons she learned from the DARE officer at Los Nogales Elementary School. She and her classmates pretend pencils are cigarettes and erasers are bottles of beer. Then they practice refusing them, she said.

The fastest tractor driver will advance to a regional competition and have a chance at competing in the nationals in Orlando, Fla., in January. Winners of the national competition will receive a $10,000 college scholarship annuity.

The event will continue today at 940 Arneill Road from noon to 6 p.m. Admission is free.

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