Donning a bright yellow safety helmet, Kendall Firman, 10, was the first girl to tug her way up the rope of “The Wall” Thursday morning with the help and encouragement of her new friends at D.A.R.E. camp.
“My legs wanted to go, but my arms just wouldn’t,” she said after the challenging climb.
“In five years, we’ve never had anyone not make it,” said Sgt. Eric White, Columbia Police Youth Services supervisor.
Climbing “The Wall” was one of the team-building events that 39 soon-to-be sixth-graders participated in this week at the fifth annual D.A.R.E. Camp in Holts Summit at Covenant Point. The camp is put on by the Columbia Police Department’s Youth Services Division.
“The biggest thing we want kids to get out of this is to remember how much fun they had being drug-free,” White said.
“We view this as an extension of the D.A.R.E. program,” said Officer John Warner, the camp program director. Many of the officers who helped with the camp also teach 10-week D.A.R.E. programs in fifth-grade classes at Columbia public elementary schools and several private schools.
Announcements about the camp were made at the schools, and a boy and a girl from each school were randomly picked to go to the day camp this week.
“We would like to do this for a lot more kids,” Warner said, but added that finding the time and funding is difficult.
Local businesses and organizations sponsored the event, so the four days of activities, meals and learning were free to participants. Camp counselors were officers from the Columbia Police Department, Boone County Sheriff’s Department and the Jefferson City National Guard.
“I really liked D.A.R.E. and thought (camp) would be even more fun,” said 11-year-old Claire Herndon, whose favorite activity was the marching drill competition, which the girls won.
Bailey Barnes, 11, attends Columbia Catholic School and said she signed up because she “thought it’d be fun to learn some new stuff and meet some new friends.”
From the laughter and cheers on their last day, the kids seemed to have known each other much longer than four days. Grouped into two teams of girls and two of boys, they competed against each other in a scavenger hunt, fishing derby, paddle boat races, wall climbing, a marching drill with National Guard recruiters and a relay race through a giant blow-up obstacle course. Teamwork and motivation play key roles in camp activities.
Each afternoon, students also swam and learned self-defense tactics. After a snack break, the boys mingled outside the dining hall waiting to move on to the fishing derby. Isaac Buckner, 11, said his favorite part was sure to be the fishing, but the treasure hunt was also a high point.
Before huddling with the girls for a fishing cheer, patrol officer Cynthia Crowe said the kids seemed to be “learning some good lessons and some good skills.” And, she added, “If they’re having a good time, then so are we.”