Officer Karen Greene knows firsthand the effects of drugs on a family member – she’s seen the abuse and addiction in her own home.
That’s why she’s thankful for the Matthews Board of Commissioners and other town leaders who have supported keeping the Matthews Police Department’s DARE program around.
“I’m so proud of these people for standing behind the program. I’ve been there. The saying goes, ‘You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink.’ We can give these kids information and hope that it steers them in the right direction,” Greene said. “It’s the parents, the schools and the law enforcement all working together to better our community.”
Matthews is one of the last municipalities in Mecklenburg County that still supports and participates in DARE, or Drug Abuse Resistance Education, according to Matthews Mayor Jim Taylor and Police Chief Rob Hunter. The program has existed across the nation for about 30 years to help kids make smart decisions about drugs, alcohol and other peer pressure. The program, which has been facilitated for the past six years in Matthews by Greene, functions at all three of Matthews’ elementary schools – Crown Point, Elizabeth Lane and Matthews elementary schools.
For Greene, the most important part of the DARE program is to help elementary students form a bond early on with law enforcement officers. Greene said it’s important for students to have a good attitude toward officers as kids to help stay out of trouble once they become teenagers and adults. The DARE program helps emphasize the “good cop” paradigm, Greene said.
“They see me in a proactive enforcement atmosphere. I’m trying to educate them,” she said.
One of Greene’s family members quickly became addicted to Hydrocodone after old medications were left lying around the house. The signs were there, but Greene and the rest of her family made excuses for the sudden bursts of acne, weight loss and irritability, she said.
Now that the family member is sober, Greene uses her family’s story to help influence good decision-making skills for students participating in the DARE programs.
“If it can happen to me under my roof, then it can happen to anybody. If I can impact just one student and parent – that’s why I share my life stories with these kids.”
The DARE program follows a nine-week curriculum, although Greene teaches 12-weeks so she can cover all the bases, including marijuana, which is no longer included in the DARE curriculum, and spend more time on the cause and effects of alcohol and tobacco.
The program also covers other issues students could be faced with on any given day. How students can report bullying, deal with stress and peer pressure and the importance of having friendship also are all covered in the program. These days, DARE is used more as a decision-making tool that teaches students to define, assess, respond and evaluate any situation they are faced
Students participating in the program also get to spend time with the Butler High School DREAM Team, a group of high school seniors who have vowed to stand up for what’s right and stay away from drugs and alcohol.
“The DREAM Team just kind of reiterates about what high school life and middle school life is going to be like,” Greene said. “They encourage the students to step it up and start preparing now by making good choices.”
Greene hosted the annual DARE recognition ceremony at Crown Point Elementary School last week, which recognizes fifth-grade students for completing the program. On Wednesday, Dec. 18, students at Elizabeth Lane Elementary hosted their DARE recognition program. Matthews Elementary participated in the DARE program in the spring semester.
“I love just eating lunch with the students, and I try to get to know the kids a little bit better,” Greene said about the relationships the DARE program helps build. “To build a relationship between our kids and law enforcement will ultimately help better our community. If we have good relationships, they’ll come to us when they really need us.”