By Auburn Terry
Dozens of children from ages 5-11 gathered under the supervision of volunteers and policemen for the annual three-day D.A.R.E. Day Camp.
Once a year, generally the week after school ends, the officers from Opelika’s police department and volunteers from the city and high school take several children out to the park at Spring Villa for a day camp for three days. With the aid of donations from the city and organizations such as the Elk’s Lodge, the camp goes on without a hitch every year. Rain or shine, the officers set aside the time to get to know the children, have fun and teach them important life lessons, all through a simple game of kickball.
Officer Jeff Fuller, who is going on his 13th year of attending and helping run the camp, said he sees the camp as a sort of haven for the kids to build fundamental relationships with each other and with the officers.
“The camp shows that police officers can be positive people too. We have familes, kids and wives, and the campers enjoy seeing that side of us,” Fuller said.
Not only the officers get involved, however. Detectives and chiefs, as well as the rookies of the police department, help make the week a success by stopping by for lunch and participating in relay races with the campers. Also, volunteers from Opelika, parents and friends of the police department, as well as Opelika High School students hand over their summer vacations for a few days for a learning experience like no other.
Destiny Rogers, an upcoming senior at OHS, jokingly admitted that she has probably learned more than she has taught.
“The whole experience teaches patience and how to work with young kids, and I’ve learned leadership skills,” Rogers said.
Some of the shared favorites of the week included kickball games, tug-of-war, a helicopter instruction, a meet-and-greet with the SWAT Team and a fire hose demonstration from the fire department.
But all fun aside, Officer Patrick Rickabaugh, in his third year of attending the camp, said that one of the best parts of camp is seeing the children come as strangers and leave as friends.
“This camp teaches (the kids) to stand up for each other. They have a good time, and they just make friends,” Rickabaugh said.
From Tuesday to Thursday, the group of more than 100 divided into four teams and competed in games and relays against each other while learning not only about themselves and each other but also the positive ways the D.A.R.E. program benefits the average person by looking to the high school volunteers.
All in all, the week was unforgettable to those involved, and many said they can’t wait to do it again in the years to come.