2005-01-14 / Community

‘Retro Bill’ uses humor for serious message

By Sylvie Belmond
belmond@theacorn.com

By Sylvie Belmond belmond@theacorn.com

SYLVIE BELMOND/Acorn Newspapers  OUTRAGEOUSLY NORMAL-Retro Bill, portrayed by actor Bill Russ, entertains children at Big Springs Elementary School in Simi Valley with an important message. The flamboyant speaker is the official "safety buddy" of DARE America. DARE is an acronym for Drug Abuse Resistance Education. With him is is Cailin O'Neil, a fourth-grader who told Retro Bill she wants to be president when she grows up.SYLVIE BELMOND/Acorn Newspapers OUTRAGEOUSLY NORMAL-Retro Bill, portrayed by actor Bill Russ, entertains children at Big Springs Elementary School in Simi Valley with an important message. The flamboyant speaker is the official "safety buddy" of DARE America. DARE is an acronym for Drug Abuse Resistance Education. With him is is Cailin O'Neil, a fourth-grader who told Retro Bill she wants to be president when she grows up.

Big Springs Elementary School students were treated Tuesday to a lively show with an important message designed to instruct kids on making safe and healthy life choices.

"I love this," said actor Bill Russ, as he waited for children to enter the auditorium at Big Springs Elementary School in Simi Valley. Russ portrays Retro Bill, a character who wants to empower kids with laughter. "They have no idea what they’re in for," he said.

Donning pompadour hair and a flamboyant outfit suitable for a 1950s Las Vegas show, Retro Bill visits various county schools, hoping to make a positive difference.

And while his mannerisms make the young audience laugh, the vibrant presentation encourages kids to make wise choices.

"I think you guys rock," he began as he entered the auditorium filled with fourth- through sixth-graders. "Every single day we’re alive, we get a chance to get closer and closer to the dream we have, whatever it is," he said.

But bullying, smoking, drinking alcohol and taking drugs can obstruct those dreams, he said.

Using props, Retro Bill’s intense one-hour presentation also highlighted the importance of wearing a helmet and not playing with fire.

From fun to serious, Retro Bill kept the kids on the edge of their seats. Elvis Presley died from drugs, he said very seriously, explaining how people can get enticed into taking drugs.

Then he brought out various rubber ducks and talked about teasing and bullying while demonstrating that everyone is different and no one should be teased for the way they look or who they are. Retro Bill encouraged communication to resolve differences.

He also shared his hoola hoop theory. "What comes around goes around," he said while making comical faces through a pink hoola hoop.

When Cailin O’Neil, a fourth-grader, said she wanted to be president or governor, Retro Bill shared Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s story.

When he came to the U.S. Schwarzenegger only had $20 in his pocket, but he had three goals, Retro Bill said. Schwarzenegger wanted to be a bodybuilder, an actor and a governor. He accomplished all three goals because he never gave up on himself, said Retro Bill.

At the end of the show, children gathered by the stage hoping to get autographed photos of Retro Bill. One little girl lingered in order to confide in him. She was hoping the anti-bullying message had made an impact on a schoolmate who has been calling her names.

"I hope my friend was listening to you . . . I did, which is why I am asking for help," she said to Retro Bill when the other children were gone.

Retro Bill followed up on the girl’s concern by calling Principal Beverly Radloff and arranging for the two girls to meet with the principal to resolve the problem, he said.

Simi Valley Police Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) officer Michelle Bertsch invited Retro Bill because she saw him at a DARE conference a couple of years ago.

"I was really impressed with his performance today with the kids," she said.

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