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Young humanitarian stands on principles

LDS young woman's objection to event at Playboy Mansion draws media attention

COTO DE CAZA, Calif. — As a senior, Chanell Sessions had served as the vice president of the Tesoro High School chapter of the service organization Best Buddies. She had also given peer support to a disabled fellow student in accordance with the purposes of the organization.

Then in late May, she received through the mail an invitation to attend a Best Buddies fund-raiser at the Playboy Mansion in Hollywood.

"I didn't think there was any way Best Buddies would associate with Playboy," 19-year-old Chanell said during a Church News telephone interview.

She wrote a letter of protest to the Best Buddies headquarters in Florida, without results. Her father, Don, who is an attorney, followed up with a letter which did bring a response, including the claim that Chanell was sent an invitation by mistake. Then the media learned of Chanell's stand and jumped into the controversy. Chanell was interviewed for an article that appeared on the front page of the Orange County Register and she also appeared on several television news broadcasts. The response, through phone calls, e-mail and letters to the editor at the newspaper, has been supportive of Chanell's stance.

"I didn't know it would go this far," Chanell said of her disappointment in the fund-raising plans of Best Buddies. "But I'm glad it's getting some attention.

"The more people don't say anything, the more it's accepted. I don't think you can let that happen."

Chanell, a member of the Santa Marguarita Ward, Santa Marguarita California Stake, said the purpose of Best Buddies is to help integrate students with disabilities in schools and to do other things, such as help them find jobs after they graduate. "I still think they are a good organization," she said. "I just think they made a bad mistake."

Acknowledging that her position could draw criticism from some people, Chanell said, "I just think you have to stand up for what you believe in. Who cares what other people think as long as you do what you think is right?"

For three years, Chanell was the community service chairman in her high school; during her senior year she earned a school award for her overall service efforts. For a Young Women in Excellence project, according to her father, she taught violin to children for $5 a lesson and used the money to buy material to sew items for orphans in India and Romania.

She is planning to attend BYU this fall and is considering going into physical therapy or law with the goal of being an advocate for children with disabilities.

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