Having a help network, making good decisions, and being responsible are just a few lessons the DARE program has taught Jenny Cook to apply in her life.
That’s one of the things the fifth grader at Cohutta Elementary School wrote in her Drug Abuse Resistance Education essay, which was judged the best out of the hundreds written by this year’s DARE graduates from 13 elementary schools in Whitfield County.
Cook and the 12 other essay winners from each school were honored at the 13th annual DARE recognition program held May 14 at the Dalton Convention Center, sponsored by the Kiwanis Club of Dalton and the Whitfield County Sheriff’s Office.
As first-place winner, Ms. Cook received a plaque and a $100 cash prize. Falestine Sarameh of Eastside Elementary received a plaque and $50 for second place, while a plaque and $20 went to Liberty Franks of Valley Point for third place.
Other school-level winners who were recognized during the program – with family, school officials, and Kiwanians looking on – included:
Varnell Elementary School - Yadira Salaises
New Hope Elementary – Sirah Moore
Pleasant Grove Elementary - Fernando Mendiola
Antioch Elementary: Ricky Juan-Nicolas
Dawnville: Ann Marie Smith
Dug Gap: McKenzie Kaylor
Westside: Trinity Franks
Beaverdale - Trinity Guo
Tunnel Hill - Kyleigh Stewart
Cedar Ridge - Melissa Hernandez
Sheriff Scott Chitwood said that since its inception in 1989, the DARE program has reached more than 28,000 youngsters, including 1,100 this school year.
“We feel like we have touched a lot of lives,” he said. “We know the school teachers, principals - y’all are changing lives every day. Parents, grandparents, thank you. You have outstanding children, grandchildren in your families.”
He urged the students to keep the DARE promise in the years to come. “Every one of you when you wrote your essay, you pledged to stay away from drugs and alcohol,” Chitwood said. “Keep that promise. There’s consequences, and you talked about that all through your classes, so do that.”
DARE instructors Sgt. Tammy Silvers, Sgt. Darlene Crider, and Officer Nathan Center introduced this year’s winners and presented each of them with a medal and certificate.
“You are the leaders for your school,” Sgt. Silvers said. “You’re the leaders that we want to see leading your peers in the future. You made that promise to yourself, to your family, that you’re gonna stay drug-free and that you’re gonna make good choices, and they’re looking up to you now as being the winner of this essay to make sure and watching every step that you make, and they’re wanting to follow you. But you have to show them the right way, and you’ve made that commitment.
“You are what we call the cream of the crop – you’re the best of the best, and we love all of you,” Sgt. Silvers said. “You’ve done a wonderful job on these essays, and we’re just honored to be here today and get to call you up and honor each one of you individually. I’m telling you, these are awesome kids, and I can’t wait to see what you’re gonna bring in the future, what y’all do in the future, because we’re gonna keep up with you and see what’s going on. And I expect y’all to be good leaders in your community, in your schools and your family.”
Sgt. Crider emphasized the importance of making good decisions. “Always think through what you want to do to make that good decision,” she said, “because my students have heard me say this over and over, and I’m gonna say it again today: If you’re a good decision maker, you’ll be good.
“Things are gonna happen to you in life – yes, they are – no matter what decision you make, things are gonna come that are not gonna be great. But if you’re a good decision maker and you’re grounded and you know what you stand up for, it’s gonna be easier to deal with these hard decisions when they come along.
“So thank you for putting your hard work into this - your heart into this. Set examples as Sgt. Silvers said. Set an example for your friends – they’re watching every move you make, and they want to see you do the right thing. You may have someone watching you that you don’t know is watching you. You don’t know everybody that’s going, ‘Hey, what are they gonna do about this? I’m gonna do what they do. If it’s good, okay, if it’s bad, oh, we’re just all in it together.’ So do something good.”