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June 14, 2014

DARE continues to pay off, 2007 essay winner returns to say at annual program

Winners in annual essay contest recognized by Kiwanis Club, Whitfield County Sheriff’s Office

Erick Dominguez plans to become a physical therapist and work with young athletes.

While doing so, he says he plans to promote the drug and alcohol abuse resistance goals that he learned in DARE as a fifth-grader at Dawnville Elementary School in 2007.

The 2014 Coahulla Creek graduate took a few minutes out of his final days of high school to come back and speak to this year’s winners of the DARE Essay Contest, who were honored by the local Kiwanis Club during the ninth annual recognition ceremony on May 12 at the trade center.

“Looking back, I didn’t know at the time what an impact the DARE program would have on my life,” Dominguez said. “After I wrote my paper and was chosen the overall county winner, I moved into middle school the next fall. It was a fun time for me, I made new friends, and I’m still friends with most of them even to this day, but not all of them.

“After middle school, we all moved to high school, and I started noticing some of my friends changing. They started doing the very same things we had pledged we wouldn’t do in middle school. They tried to peer pressure me into drinking and then later on it moved on to more serious things like drugs, just like we had been told (by DARE instructors) we would be.”

That’s when he began to remember the things he had learned in the DARE program, “and I was surprised to find myself able to resist the temptations shown to me so much easier than my friends, just by remembering how important it was to stay drug and alcohol free,” he said.

“I also remembered how much it meant to my parents and teachers for me not to do those things,” Dominguez said, “and because of that I’ve been able to stay on the right path throughout high school thanks to the DARE program instilling those virtues in me, and I hope they resonate in your minds as well.”

Dominguez urged the fifth-grade essay winners to “lead others and be examples in your schools showing others that you are proud to lead a drug- and alcohol-free life. That way you may one day get this honor I have received to talk to the next group of DARE graduates” seven years from now.

District Attorney Bert Poston, who has been the master of ceremonies for the program since its inception, said the recognition ceremony began as a way for the Kiwanis Club to meet one of its key goals, to honor and support young people in the community.

“We’re proud of you, the work that you’ve put into getting here because what I always say is it’s not enough to know the truth, you have to be able to communicate the truth to others if you’re going to succeed in life,” Poston told the winners. “So that means being able to speak, being able to write and communicate with others. You have not only learned a lot in the DARE program, but you’ve been able to communicate that through an essay to others. That’s very powerful and will serve you well going forward.”

Whitfield County Sheriff Scott Chitwood praised Dominguez for serving as “living proof” that the DARE program does make a difference.

“We always say at our graduations if we changed the life of one student, it was worth it,” Chitwood said. “We started DARE in 1989, and we’ve had roughly 1,000 students go through the program each year since then. So when you see students like these fifth-graders and seniors like Erick, that’s inspiring to me that we are making a difference.”

The sheriff praised Judy Gilreath, county school superintendent, for allowing the sheriff’s office to come onto the campuses and teach the DARE curriculum.

“I think every student here today will tell you how much they have enjoyed the program, and we are honoring some of the best and the brightest of the students we have in the Whitfield County school system,” Chitwood said. “I think the teachers and the principals here with us today will also support that. DARE has been very successful. We support it wholeheartedly. It’s a great program. There are drugs in our county, but again through an education program like this, I think and hope we do make a difference. To you young people today, I say to you, thank you so much, and to base your life against somebody like Erick and be leaders in middle school and high school as you get older. You’re going to make a difference in this county.”

DARE instructors Tammy Silvers and Darlene Crider, who were accompanied by Lt. Wayne Mathis, who is in charge of DARE crime prevention, praised the essay winners as leaders in their schools, urging them to continue to make good choices and remain someone that other students can look up to in the years to come.

“Sometimes you’re going to have those friends that are going to make bad choices, and you need to make that choice, hey, I’m going to stay away from it,” Silvers said.

Crider likewise emphasized that the DARE program is all about making good choices for a lifetime.

“This is not just a fifth-grade, elementary, middle school, high school, college promise,” she said. “It’s a lifetime promise. You are leaders; you are people who will lead your peers in high school because they will look up to you. Your decisions are going to affect everyone because they are watching you.”

Plaques and cash awards were presented to the top three essay writers, including Jocelyn Torres of New Hope Elementary, first place, $100; Issas Andujo of Eastside Elementary, second place, $50; and Jake Fossett of Dawnville Elementary, third place, $20. Torres read her essay to the large group of family members, school officials and Kiwanis Club members.

Winners from the other elementary schools in the county were Jesus Mendiola of Pleasant Grove, Ivonne Barrera of Cedar Ridge, Sierra Stewart of Antioch, twin brothers Cam Souther and Colt Souther, who tied at Beaverdale, Grayson Boyd of Westside, Abby Wright of Cohutta, Katelyn Richards of Varnell, Adrea Norrell of Valley Point, Molly Young of Tunnel Hill and Vanessa Padron of Dug Gap.

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