The Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) graduation ceremony held at Exeter on Friday was bittersweet. Local law enforcement officers have announced that the program will be placed on hold due to county budget constraints.
"The program is a great tool for students," said Barry County Sheriff Mick Epperly. "It is the only tool we have that teaches kids in area schools to say 'no' to drugs.
"They have the opportunity to learn about drug abuse at an early point through the program," said Epperly. "Through follow-ups, I have seen a lot of students be impacted by what they learned through the program."
Epperly said the county program, which serves Shell Knob, Exeter, Southwest, Purdy and Wheaton students, began around 15 years ago. Cassville Police Chief Dana Kammerlohr, who at the time was serving as a county deputy, was instrumental in establishing the DARE program in Barry County.
"It is sad that we have to pull funding away from the program," said Epperly. "The only reason we are pulling that funding away is that we have to pull four deputies off the road due to the shortfall in county funding.
"People are already talking about ways to raise funding for the program," said Epperly. "We would like to see it continue, but without fundraisers, donations or grants, we don't have anyway to fund it."
Epperly said that the sheriff's department is researching grant possibilities but so far have not found any that could be used to fund the program. He also sent letters to each school district the county DARE program serves.
"We wanted to notify them that we would no longer be able to offer the program unless we could come up with more funds," said Epperly. "Deputy Larry Stockton (Barry County DARE officer) said that the districts have indicated that they are strapped for money right now as well."
Although Epperly couldn't say exactly how much the county program costs, he did say that a majority of Stockton's hours are spent teaching the DARE program at area school districts.
"He puts in many hours preparing those kids to graduate from the program," said Epperly. "A big percentage of his time is spent on the DARE program.
"I believe that program offers a positive impact for the county," said Epperly. "I hope that we can find a way to fund it in the future. We are interested in any ideas to keep it going and keep it alive."
Epperly said that the sheriff's department would be willing to partner with other organizations or groups to develop fundraising opportunities for the DARE program.
Groups and individuals interested in supporting the program are encouraged to call Epperly at 417-847-6556.