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Bulkeley High Senior Wins CRT Prom Nite Video Contest

Colleen Kopp

April 27, 2010

Vanessa Gonzalez, 17, a senior from Bulkeley High and Hartford resident, won the Community Renewal Team Healthy Teen Hartford Coalition's Prom Nite video contest, for her entry about how alcohol has affected her life personally and how she got her mind right.

"I have a family member who's suffering because he drank too much," Gonzalez said. She recently learned her step-father has one year to live from cirrhosis of the liver. "I want to encourage people to be patient and safe."

Videographers, members from CRT, and Bulkeley High personal surprised Gonzalez during her Anatomy and Physiology class on Wednesday. As the cameras flashed and videographers zoomed around the room, the students looked at each other in shock.

"What is this? What is this?" said a student.

When Gayle Allen-Greene, principal of Upper Bulkeley, announced Gonzalez's win, the classroom clapped. And when Annette Gaynor, vice chair of CRT Healthy Teen Hartford told the class what the win entitled--a free limousine ride, dinner for four at Tappas, professional make-up and a reality show of the night--the classroom gasped and awed.

"You can tell she's very honored, a little overwhelmed, but definitely honored," principal Allen-Greene said. "She got her message across and if it saves one teen, she will have done it. I'm proud of any of our students who stand up for a cause."

Gonzalez plans to go to college and become a dentist, or nurse or doctor.

"This will do a lot for her. When you get a bump, it can change your whole life," said Gretchen Levitz, program director at Bulkeley High.

Helder Mira, videographer for Gonzalez's prom night on May 1, said he's excited about the project and wants to "help CRT and the kids get their message out about underage drinking."

Major partners for the video contest include MEGA Education, Jeffrey Dressler and Phi Beta Zeta Inc. Healthy Teen Hartford Coalition was formed three years ago with support from the Conn. Dept. of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS).

Photo-ops in the halls and an overhead announcement brought more attention to Gonzalez's win. "Keep your eye on this girl," said Dressler during the announcement.

"A lot of teenagers think that they'll be a nerd if they stand up for something, but with contests like this, they can become a role model," said Declon Joseph, alcohol prevention specialist from CRT.

"I want to make sure everyone knows that Hartford has some young people who don't drink," Gonzalez said. "You have to get your mind right."

Is she proud of herself? "Oh I am," she said quietly with a big smile.

Reprinted with permission of the CityLine blog of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the CityLine at http://blogs.courant.com/cityline/ and the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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