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Saturday, November 18th, 2017

DARE program under restoration

By William Kincaid
CELINA - Mercer County Sheriff's officials are gradually restoring the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program to its pre-recession scope.
County commissioners recently approved sheriff Jeff Grey's request to purchase a 2015 Chevrolet Equinox with 33,126 miles from Kerns Ford-Lincoln for $16,099 for the DARE program. Kerns submitted the lowest of three bids for the program's second vehicle.
The Equinox will be used by DARE officer Donald Bird, Grey said on Friday. Bird, who has been with the agency since 2011, on Aug. 21 was reassigned from deputy to DARE officer. He graduated from DARE School on Oct. 6.
With Bird's move, the program has one full-time officer and a part-time officer, Sue Miller. Before the recession hit about a decade ago, the office had two full-time DARE officers, Grey said. But when the economy went south, the office couldn't maintain its DARE workforce until recently. The Ohio Attorney General Office's reimburses the office for half of DARE officers' salaries, he added.
"I don't think that DARE is the answer to all of the drug problems, but I do think DARE reaches a lot of kids," Grey said. "And I really think that the drug problem is less than what it would be without DARE."
Since August, Bird has been shadowing Miller as she visits schools in the county, meeting with fifth-graders once a week for several weeks, culminating in a graduation ceremony.
Being a DARE officer "is not just something anybody can do," Grey said, adding it takes the right personality and untold patience to work daily with children on the difficult topics addressed in the program.
"Schoolteachers and DARE officers need a big pat on the back," Grey said.
Eventually, Grey hopes to branch out the program to other grades, too, especially to stress to children the importance of staying away from heroin, the bane of the community in recent years.
"Hitting them with the DARE program is a good place to start. I'd like to build this back up to two full-time DARE officers if we can," he said.
Grey said heroin addicts he's spoken with in the jail are adamant that the only way to beat the epidemic is to persuade people never to try the drug in the first place.
"I really believe that people hooked on heroin don't want to use. It's just taken over their lives and they're not strong enough to quit," Grey said.
In a perfect world, if funding wasn't an issue, students would have continuous interaction with DARE officers from kindergarten through high school, Grey said.
In addition to providing DARE education, the officers also foster positive relationships with the children, Grey pointed out.
"It puts a deputy in the school at different times," he said. "It's also like having a school resource officer."
When school lets out for summer, DARE officers forge ahead with their mission at various community events.
"We're trying to keep the drug prevention message out in front of the kids just as much as we can," Grey said.
DARE is an international program created in 1983 in Los Angeles. It aims to provide students with the necessary skills to recognize and resist pressures to experiment with drugs, alcohol and tobacco and to avoid gangs and violence.
Local students complete workbook assignments, role play and write essays on what they've learned. Their final step is promising to make good choices throughout life.
DARE offers youngsters information to help them live healthier and safer lives and stand up for themselves without buckling under pressure.
Each spring the Mercer County DARE Boosters hosts a luncheon honoring graduating seniors who have stayed true to their DARE pledge and awarding scholarships to essay winners, Grey said.
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