SENECA FALLS — While the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program is still being taught in schools, its focus has changed dramatically — especially in the lower grade levels.

“DARE is now about Keeping It Real,” said Seneca County Deputy Frank Eldredge, school resource officer at Romulus Central School. “We try to show the kids that if you make good decisions, you are going to have good outcomes.”

Eldredge was among the many local law enforcement officers on hand Thursday at Vince’s Park for the annual Seneca County DARE “Fun Day.” It was for fifth-graders in the Romulus, Seneca Falls, South Seneca and Waterloo school districts who recently completed the 10-week DARE curriculum for that grade level.

“The kids really enjoy this,” Eldredge said. “It’s a reward for doing well.”

County law enforcement agencies began the event in 2013 after a previous DARE concert for students in several area counties at the Constellation Brands-Marvin Sands Performing Arts Center was discontinued. A number of community sponsors, including Generations Bank and Seneca Meadows, donate money for course materials and picnic food for the Seneca County event, with the food cooked up by Seneca Meadows staff for more than 300 people.

Off-duty local police and state police serve lunch to students and school staffers. Eldredge said during Thursday’s event, which ran from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., many officers stopped by to spend time with the students.

Kinsey Kime, a Romulus fifth-grader who was a DARE essay contest winner, said the course taught her much more than the dangers of drugs.

“We talked about how to deal with bullying and stressful situations. It’s about making good decisions and doing the right thing,” she said. “Now I know what to do if someone tries to influence me into making a bad decision, and it will help me influence other people not to do drugs or alcohol, or smoke.”

Despite chilly and sometimes rainy conditions Thursday, many students swam in the pool at Vince’s Park, played softball, baseball and lacrosse — or hung out with fellow students in the pavilion areas. Eldredge said while the DARE curriculum in middle and high school still focuses on the dangers of drugs, the fifth-grade program addresses more current topics.

“When I started as a deputy in 1995, our current undersheriff (John Cleere) was the DARE instructor. He used to bring in a box full of drug paraphernalia. I never understood why we were showing kids the drugs,” Eldredge said with a laugh. “They changed the program to Keeping It Real because times are changing. We’re getting away from the old way of doing things. With social media today, we talk about taking pictures you might regret later on, being respectful and being responsible ... and walking away from people who aren’t.”

Anyone who would like to donate to the program can make checks payable to the Seneca County DARE Fund and mail to the Seneca County Sheriff’s Office, ATTN: DARE Fund, 6150 Route 96, Romulus, NY 14541. All donations are used solely for the DARE program.

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