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Camp D.A.R.E. falls to budget ax

SALEM – A much-loved, free summer camp program for Salem middle schoolers has fallen to the budget axe. Salem Camp D.A.R.E. won’t happen this summer or any summer in the foreseeable future.

Dropping the camp program that made an impact on 3,761 middle school students over the years will save the City of Salem more than $100,000 each year, said Salem City Manager Kevin Boggess when he made the announcement today, Feb. 9.

“For 19 years this has been a summer staple for many of the school kids in Salem, but I think this shows just how serious things are right now,” Boggess said, expressing regret that the camp budget has to be cut.

Salem was one of the original 13 cities and counties included in Virginia’s Drug Abuse Resistance Education efforts in 1986. Camp D.A.R.E. was founded five years later, to reinforce positive activities for preteens.

Camp D.A.R.E. for the last five years has been held in Botetourt County at Camp Bethel, run by the Church of the Brethren, for eight weeks each summer. Girls attended one week, alternating with boys’ camp the next.

Salem Police officers ran the camp and presented programs to the preteens, along with Salem Fire and Emergency Medical Services, parks and recreation and others.

The kids caught trout to take home, went on canoe trips, ropes courses and made a copper tooled D.A.R.E. emblem. For many of the kids, it was their only summer camp experience.

“Having been one of the Camp’s directors, I’m extremely disappointed that we have to take this action,” said Salem Police Chief Jeff Dudley, “but the camp consumes a lot of man hours during the summer months and during these tight times with hiring freezes in effect citywide, it just makes more sense to use these resources in other ways.”

Last year, 208 seventh graders attended Camp D.A.R.E. The city paid for all expenses for the campers, including overnight lodging, meals, transportation, counselors and equipment, as well as a T-shirt for each camper.

While the summer camp is being suspended indefinitely, the D.A.R.E. program will continue in each of Salem’s four elementary schools, the middle school and Salem High School.”

Dudley reassured parents and the public, “The presence of our officers in the schools will continue just as it has in the past, because we know from experience that they have a very positive influence on our city’s school children.”

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