COLUMBIA — Local businesses have come to the rescue of this summer’s D.A.R.E. camp, which was at risk of being canceled after budget cuts earlier this year.
The D.A.R.E. camp, a drug prevention education program, brings together a pair of fifth-graders from every school in Columbia for four days. The camp, which is free, includes decision-making games, confidence courses and other activities designed to give kids positive alternatives to alcohol and drugs and increase their self-esteem.
The door was closed on the camp when Columbia police and the Boone County Sheriff’s Department were forced to eliminate it from their 2008 budgets.
Elks Lodge #594 of Columbia, with the help of donations from local businesses, recently raised enough money, which amounted to more than $2,500, to fund the program, said Becky Covington, chairperson of the Elks drug awareness committee.
“We want to put drug awareness back into the forefront,” Covington said. “This camp helps sharpen the tools kids received in the D.A.R.E. program (in their schools) and it produces young leaders.”
By Wednesday, less than a week before the camp’s scheduled start, the total amount of money needed to hold the camp had been raised. The Elks spearheaded the effort with the help of businesses like Cook’s Body Shop, Blue Moon Restaurant and Jack’s Gourmet Restaurant and Lounge. The rest came from private contributions.
Melissa Applegate, co-owner of Jack’s Gourmet Restaurant and Lounge, said that in a slow economy, private businesses can do their part to pick up the slack.
“The funds are drying up everywhere, and we felt that this would be a good opportunity to help kids and promote drug-abuse prevention,” Applegate said.
Another contributor, Kenny Cook, owner of Cook’s Body Shop, said he supported D.A.R.E. camp. “It’s a good thing for the entire community,” he said.
Sgt. Eric White of the Columbia police Community Youth Services Unit said he’s happy to see the camp return. “It’s one of those proactive programs that allows officers to interact with the kids and have fun,” White said. “Many times, it’ll be a kid’s first experience in the woods, and we teach them how to fish and paddle a boat.”
When asked whether the in-school D.A.R.E. program could disappear because of the budget cuts, White said it was a possibility, but that such decisions are made “on a year-by-year basis.”
This year’s camp will be held July 14 through July 17 at Covenant Point in Holts Summit. The camp is about 30 miles south of Columbia, and the counseling staff is made up of members of the Columbia police, Boone County Sheriff’s Department and the National Guard.