OPD Officers surprise DARE graduates who were unable to attend camp due to COVID-19

Marissa Ventrelli
The Ottawa Herald

For kids growing up in Ottawa, participating in D.A.R.E camp the August before the sixth grade is a rite of passage. The camp has been hosted by the Ottawa Police Department for over 30 years and had never skipped a year until 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic forced the Department to cancel. The camp was again canceled in 2021 as another wave of COVID cases hit the country and students weren't yet old enough to receive the vaccine. Left with the money designated for the camp from the Ottawa Police Foundation and wanting to find a new way to give back to the students who had worked hard in the D.A.R.E program during the year, OPD decided to give the kids something special, while also helping local businesses. 

On October 6, Community Service Officer Alexander and School Resource Officer Alcaron surprised the 2020 and 2021 D.A.R.E classes, who were now in sixth and seventh grade at Ottawa Middle School, with $25 each in Ottawa Chamber Bucks, which they can use at a number of local businesses around town.

Normally, the students would have attended D.A.R.E Camp at Prairie Star Ranch in Williamsburg for a weekend right before the beginning of the school year. Campers participate in a variety of summertime activities, including canoeing, archery, and even a water fight with 12,000 gallons of water supplied by the Ottawa Fire Department, said Officer Alexander. All attendees are graduates of the Drug Abuse Resistance Education, or D.A.R.E, program, which is taught at elementary schools nationwide by local police and community service officers. D.A.R.E Camp is free to all graduates and provides a reward to the students who successfully completed the program. 

Officer Alexander describes the moment he and Alcaron walked into the OMS cafeteria to surprise their former students as full of excitement. "Watching them come up and grab [the Chamber Bucks] and seeing some of their faces, I was excited. It was very exciting to be able to do this for the community, for the middle schoolers that didn't get to go to D.A.R.E Camp," he said. "To have to cancel was a very difficult decision, but the excitement that we're still able to give back, one way or another, was really good and I think they all appreciated it."

The Chamber Bucks were paid for with funding that had been designated for the camp but was left unused after OPD decided to cancel in 2020 and 2021.