The steady sound of marching echoes throughout the parking lot.
“Left, left, left right left,” bellow the campers, their foreheads and cheeks coated with green and black face paint. Serious, determined expressions line their faces.
“We don’t drink no alcohol,” the Blue Group begins.
“We don’t drink no alcohol,” the Green Group repeats.
“We just drink soda, y’all. We just drink soda y’all,” both groups finish.
“Sound off,” yells their leader. “One, two.”
“Three, four,” the group responds, trying to contain their smiles of accomplishment.
The boys sit down, awaiting the announcement of who won the marching contest. The girls’ team has given them a formidable challenge, but in the end, the boys erupt in cheers and exchange high fives as they learn they have taken the crown.
“I didn’t think we were going to win,” says Kyle Sherman. “But now I have confidence.”
This is D.A.R.E. camp. Forty Columbia and Boone County fifth-graders who graduated from D.A.R.E., a program designed to prevent the abuse of drugs and alcohol, are here after being selected at random. The four-day camp ends today.
The camp is in Holts Summit, but on Wednesday, the camp’s Military Day, participants took a field trip to the Ike Skelton Training Site/Missouri National Guard Headquarters near Jefferson City. The campers toured the base and learned how to march.
The Columbia, MU and Jefferson City police departments, the Boone County Sheriff’s Department and the National Guard Counter-Drug Unit led the camp, which is funded through private donations. This is the second year the camp has run.
Campers spent the week swimming, fishing, competing in derby races, obstacle courses and paddle boat races, learning self-defense and, of course, learning how to make good choices.
“We want them to know that there are some positive drug-free choices,” said Sgt. Dianne Bernhard of the Columbia Police Department’s Youth Services Unit. “That’s the whole idea behind the camp: that you can have fun without doing drugs or alcohol.”
Instilling confidence in the kids is one of the leader’s goals for the week, along with teaching leadership and showing campers they have a support system.
“They’re 10 and 11 and ... they need encouragement, and we work with self-esteem,” said school resource officer Linda Fincham of the Columbia Police Department.
Bernhard hopes the campers will go back to school and share with their friends the information they’ve learned.
“A lot of what we’re doing is teaching kids to become leaders. We hope they can be an example for the other kids,” said Bernhard.
Camper Eli Black said the camp will affect his decisions in the future.
“Oh yeah, I’ll definitely tell my friends about this,” he said.