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Learning to just say no!

Alexandria Police Chief Rick Wyffels congratulated a student at St. Mary's School at a DARE graduation ceremony.

Concerned how your kids will handle the pressures of alcohol and drugs in the world today? There has been a program at work for the last 20 years in Douglas County to tackle that worry.

The Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program was developed in 1983 in Los Angeles and just recently celebrated its 20th anniversary in Douglas County.

Created in response to a large increase in drug use and abuse resulting in increased crime, DARE utilizes specially trained, uniformed, law enforcement officers in the classrooms to educate youth about the dangers of drugs.

The DARE program was started in 1989 in Douglas County and is still going strong.

Back in 1989, it was officers Rick Wyffels and Tom Jacobson of the Alexandria Police Department who started the program locally.

Currently, the leaders of the Douglas County D.A.R.E program are Jeremy Olson of the Alexandria Police Department and Ron Boyden of the Douglas County Sheriff's Office.

"I started back in 1996 when I was selected by Captain Rick Wyffels to be one of the DARE officers," said Olson. "When I think of the DARE acronym, I also see a different meaning. Define, Recess, Act and Evaluate is the hidden acronym that also means a lot to this program."

Olson sees the program affecting not only the children of the classes, but also the parents. "While being fun for the kids to interact with each other in activities that pertain to safety that is taught in DARE, the parents also have a fun time coming to the graduation and seeing how much their children learned."

The DARE officers will be starting their spring classes in the next few weeks. Lincoln, Zion and Woodland elementary schools in Alexandria are among some of the schools that they will be visiting.

"The kids meet with me once a week for 10 weeks," said Olson. "The classroom curriculum is scientifically based on learning how to resist peer pressure and drug and alcohol problems. Each student is required to attend every session and at the end before graduation, they write a DARE essay. This essay consists of a DARE pledge in which the student will tell me how they will use the knowledge they learned to tackle real world issues when dealing with the pressures of drug and alcohol problems.

"The program is growing dramatically and having a far larger affect on youth today," Olson added. "The only thing that I would like to see change is the budget situation. Every time the program is done, it is harder to find the funds to do it due to the situation of hard times. It is such a fantastic program and essential for the youth today."

For the past 20 years, the DARE program has brought a sense of safety and security to parents, who know their children are learning important life lessons about dealing with the pressures of drugs and alcohol.