Rarely a day goes by when BreAnne Poe isn’t reminded of the positive influence DARE Camp can have on Ottawa’s youth.
“I attempt to promote the camp when I talk to the younger kids that are coming up through grade school,” said Poe, who attended DARE Camp and has served as a volunteer there since her junior year in high school when she became old enough to be a counselor.
“Because I’m the high school soccer coach, I see some of the kids that attended DARE camp now as freshman and sophomores and juniors, so that’s kind of cool ... Those kids are completely different now than they were [heading into middle school].”
Poe, a volunteer at the camp since 2007, plans to be on hand with other volunteers to greet more than 100 youth who signed up for the three-day free camp which begins Sunday at Timber Lakes camp and retreat center, 1375 Rock Creek Road, Williamsburg.
Fifth-graders who complete the DARE curriculum in school and then submit an essay about their experience with the DARE curriculum are eligible to attend the free camp, Dennis Butler, Ottawa police chief, said. The police department’s DARE program is taught by Larabe Alexander, community service officer, and police detective Leah Thomas.
Campers participate in a variety of activities including, air rifle, archery, swimming,canoeing and crafts.
“Kids are divided up into different teams for the duration of the camp, with boys and girls on each team,” Butler said. “They canoe, they go to an air rifle activity, archery activity, and the last few years we’ve put on a mock crime. Children have an opportunity by the end of the camp to say who the suspect is [who committed the crime]. Lots of kids really enjoy that.
“One of things on the last series of events — archery, canoeing, and air rifle — there is a competition among the teams for the highest score and they are recognized on family night which is the last night of camp (Tuesday) for how they placed, and there are some individual awards for air rifle and archery.”
One child on each team also is selected for a leadership award.
Coaching girls soccer at Ottawa High School is not the only role in which Poe interacts with the community. She also is an attorney specializing in family law with the Ottawa firm Finch, Covington & Boyd.
“I love kids, and it’s good to see them interact and have fun [at the camp],” she said. “They like to talk about all the fun stuff they did.”
And the camp would not be complete without the water fights, courtesy of the Ottawa Fire Department.
Poe is assisting the camp, now in its 32nd year, in another capacity as a new board member of the Ottawa Police Foundation, which raises most of the funds for the camp — through community support — so it can be offered free to campers.
Poe and Butler said the community’s involvement has had positive effects on DARE Camp.
“Almost all of the money raised for camp expenses are raised by the Ottawa Police Foundation specifically for that purpose,” Butler said.
In collaboration with the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, the camp now includes about 20 students from county schools — with the hope of some day expanding or offering back-to-back camps to make the experience possible for all city and county children.
DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) has evolved in the past three decades and now also focuses on teaching students decision-making for safe and healthy living, according to the national organization D.A.R.E. America. The program recently came under fire by a few large media outlets, citing a 1996 study that questioned the effectiveness of the program. D.A.R.E. America noted the reports were inaccurate because the curriculum called into question in the 1990s had been replaced years ago.
“D.A.R.E. America worked with Penn State University and Arizona State University [after the 1996 study was published] and they developed an evidence based curriculum called ‘keepin’ it REAL’ in elementary schools. ... This program not only focused on drug prevention but it also emphasized heavily the idea of just making good choices in all facets of your life as a child. You’re going to be tempted by peers, tempted by things you see on television and social media, but if your parents and your teachers and here in this curriculum we are telling you those aren’t good for you — it’s trying to encourage them to make good choices and resist temptation in alcohol, drugs and just bad behavior,” Butler said. “The curriculum has been cited by the U.S. Surgeon General as being one of many drug prevention programs which seems to show some effectiveness.”
DARE Camp is rewarding on many levels, Butler said.
“What’s really nice about DARE Camp is it brings kids from every segment of our community together as they get ready to start sixth grade, and so these kids all come from different elementary schools but now they are going in the middle school together so they get a chance to meet each other and know each other,” Butler said.
Volunteer counselor Poe experienced what the chief was talking about first-hand when she was a camper.
“I wasn’t the most outgoing [at that age], but I did meet new people there and that was important to me,” she said.
The camp allows the police department to interact with children in a positive setting, Butler said.
“We have kids who sometimes come from troubled homes and we’ve spent time in their homes and spent time with their family members, and not in the most positive way,” Butler said. “What I find very satisfying is the fact that even though we have had those kinds of contact, those parents will still bring their kids to spend three days and two nights with the police department at DARE Camp, and I think that speaks highly about how people view the camp and what it means to them.”
Poe said she enjoys the camp and plans to continue volunteering. And there’s another reason why she is often reminded of its positive attributes.
“I met my husband [Aaron Poe] at DARE Camp, so I can’t complain,” she said with a laugh.