Tags: Featured Story
Seventeen-year-old Keona Borntreger’s mother, Donna, always gave her good advice. She would tell her, “Shoot for the moon, and if you miss it, you’ll at least land on a star.” So, when Donna lost her battle to cancer 12 days before Keona competed in the Distinguished Young Women (DYW) of Bakersfield scholarship program, Keona knew she would try her best because that’s what her mom would want for her.
With 21 other young women vying for the scholarship, Keona and Ariella Goldstein won the title of 2014 Distinguished Young Women of Bakersfield. In addition to the title, Keona came in first place in the talent, self-expression, and essay categories and won $1,950 in scholarship prizes. Both winners will go on to compete in the California state DYW program this summer.
During the self-expression category, Keona was given a quote by Walt Disney to relate to her life. The quote stated, “If you can dream it, you can do it.” Her answer reiterated her mother’s influence in her life. She told the judges that this quote shares the same inspiration, encouragement, strength, and comfort she received from her mother.
“My mom taught me to live each day to the fullest,” Keona says. “She would tell me, “If you have to pick between crying and laughing, always pick laughing.’”
With rehearsals for the DYW program starting months before her passing, Donna was able to help Keona prepare for her big night. Lonnie Borntreger, Keona’s father, says that his wife knew that Keona was going to win the scholarship. “She was always very proud of her daughter,” he says. “She would tell her all the time, ‘You can do this.’”
In addition to her newly acquired DYW title, Keona is a busy teenager who just finished her junior year at Liberty High School (LHS). An active member in the LHS chorus program, she sings in the Liberty Chamber Singers and the Liberty Chorale. Next year, she plans to not only continue to sing but also work as a teacher’s aide for her favorite instructor, the LHS chorus director, Timothy Williams. She has also performed in numerous plays and operas for both LHS and Bakersfield Music Theatre. When she’s not singing or acting, you can find her participating in The Bridge’s Worship Team or working at Mountain Mike’s Pizza.
After high school, Keona plans to attend college in Fullerton to double major in opera and secondary education. She wants to be in a traveling opera company and then become a high school chorus teacher.
Lonnie says Donna had a unique sense of humor, and he’s proud she passed it on to his daughter along with many of her other exceptional attributes. “I see a lot of her mom in her (Keona). She’s beautiful, funny, smart, and those are the reasons I married her mother,” he says.
Keona loves this compliment because she says, “I want to be like her in everything!”
Donna’s long battle with cancer started in 2004 with a diagnosis of breast cancer. After a mastectomy, chemotherapy, and radiation, she went into remission. In 2008, the doctors found a small cell cancer in her lungs. After chemotherapy for this cancer, she experienced neuropathy, a side effect that caused severe and constant pain. Then, in 2009, her breast cancer recurred and had metastasized to her lungs. She spent the next few years fighting the cancer and managing the pain of neuropathy. Donna died on April 7th at the age of 51.
In a Facebook post on April 27, Keona summed up her feelings about her mom’s passing perfectly. She wrote, “I simply just miss you. Your responses. Your witty, snappy comments. Your sarcasm and humor. The way you completely get me. Truly everything. I miss my best friend. I miss my mom.”
Donna’s children, Delana, Keona, and Zavier, along with her husband, Lonnie, plan to hold a celebration of her life on July 2nd, which would have been Donna and Lonnie’s 19th wedding anniversary. In lieu of flowers, they ask for donations designated towards a special fund, “Donna’s Dream Givers,” which will help the homeless and recovering addicts and provide mentoring for teen mothers—all causes that Donna felt passionate about.
For more information about Donna’s Dream Givers, you can contact KCFM at 661-861-4939. For more information about the DYW Scholarship program, please visit www.ajm.org.
*Photo courtesy of Distinguished Young Women of Bakersfield