The symbol was adopted by Calexico High's Just Say No Club to honor Camarena's personal sacrifice in the war on drugs.
In addition to wearing the ribbons in memorial, the club changed its name to the Camarena Club at the request of the Imperial Valley's congressman Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine.
Years later, other schools and communities — and first lady Nancy Reagan — would latch onto the symbolism of the red ribbon idea and, in 1988, Red Ribbon Week became a nationwide program.
El Centro City Councilman David Dhillon was the faculty adviser of the old Just Say No Club when the name was changed and his students started wearing red ribbons.
"When the club started I had 15 to 20 members and that was when emotions were high," Dhillon said.
Now, the club includes up to 50 members.
"I'm amazed. This club is stronger today then when I had it. The kids don't need that emotional motivation of a local who was killed to be in a club.
"I'm especially impressed how the club has evolved. I think it is a tribute to the Camarena family," he said.
In recent years, the club has evolved to encompass a wide range of issues that accompany drug use, including, low self-esteem, peer pressure and familial stress.
Club vice president Carolina Castro said the club "gives me an opportunity to reach out to kids when we participate in the camps … help them understand, so they can know a little of what I know."
In connection with the national Friday Night Live Organization and the Imperial County Office of Education, the club takes fifth-graders to two-day camps in Julian twice a year.
At the camps, "It's not just drug-prevention counseling. It's self-esteem, anger management and family systems. It's good support for the children," Granados said.
During a special camp organized just for girls, the issues are tailored to their special concerns.
Said Cole: "I get goosebumps talking about the events and the kids are enthralled. They pay attention to the students because it is like their big sister or big brother talking to them."
Club secretary Martiza Briceno said the Camarena Club is not just "just say no" anymore.
"It's a positive promotion of anti-drug. It's different because it's not the cliché "say no to drugs" and all of this.
"For them to see this coming from teen-agers, it lets them know that there is more than gangs, drugs and tobacco," she said.
"We come with something different like skits. It's diverse," she added.
Paulina Renteria, club treasurer, said, "We're able to get across a very important message because we're able, as teen-agers ourselves, to promote a positive image for them."
Staff Writer Aaron Claverie can be reached at 337-3419 or email@example.com