North Bergen DARE is a two-year program for fifth and eighth graders. The program educates children and young adults about the dangers of drugs, gangs, and violence, and the importance of developing skills to avoid involvement in those vices.
Approximately 625 North Bergen fifth graders graduated from their first year in the DARE program.
North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco, the North Bergen Board of Education, the North Bergen Police Department, the New Jersey National Guard, the New Jersey State Police, and the North Bergen Alliance Against Drugs and Alcohol treated the kids to the celebration.
The rewards of the dare
The students enjoyed a field day with a rock-climbing wall, a giant slide, and a Tiger Bounce. The menu included popcorn, cotton candy, and snow cones.
North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue brought its smokehouse trailer; the New Jersey National Guard presented a helicopter air-show and display, and the New York Red Bulls soccer team presented the pass, dribble and shoot program. There was a motorcycle stunt show, a police car show, and more.
Raffles and lots of prizes honored the children's commitment to resisting drugs and violence.
"It was a great event," said Nicholas DeMauro, chairman and CEO, DARE New Jersey. "Twenty years from now these kids will remember that day and hopefully it will trigger a memory of what they've learned, and they can keep on making good decisions in life."
He added, "Our goal is to give them the tools they need to make their decisions, and we're confident that they have those tools. We give them sound, evidence-based educational information to help them stay away from violence and live safe, drug-free lifestyles."
DeMauro awarded North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco the mayor of the year award. "He was instrumental in maintaining very large support for the program, which mayors throughout the state of New Jersey can emulate," De Mauro said.
Police pitch in
The DARE program, in partnership with the Township of North Bergen, The North Bergen Board of Education, and the North Bergen Police Department, is under the leadership of Police Chief William Galvin, and North Bergen Police Officers Joseph Sitty, Marina Fernandez, Anthony Ortiz, and Brian Stanckard.
"I've been with DARE 12 years," said Officer Sitty, one of two DARE instructors. "DARE is a life-building skills program," he explained. "We talk about the different types of drugs, including alcohol and over-the-counter drugs, and we talk about bullying and gangs."
"The DARE program helps kids understand the consequences when you get involved in violence or gangs," he said. "We take our life experiences as police officers and put them into our lessons."
According to Sitty, kids also share their own experiences. "It happens all the time where I have kids tell me about dealing with a parent involved in drugs," he said. "That makes their commitment to be free from drugs and violence that much easier."
Teaching the course, he said, "allows me to come in and have relationships with kids, and they see the other side of police officers."
Among the many attractions was recording artist Lori Michaels singing "Reach Out," which has become the DARE graduation song.
Sounding like one of his students, Sitty pronounced DARE Day "awesome."