Trish Bennett, Editor
CIRCLEVILLE – The Pickaway County D.A.R.E. officer will now be cruising in style following a surprise presentation Wednesday at the county fairgrounds.
Deputy Dale Thomas was presented with a Hummer for the D.A.R.E. program donated by Hetty’s Hopes and Dreams, a local philanthropic organization dedicated to furthering the lives of youth.
About 400 D.A.R.E. students from Circleville, Logan Elm, Teays Valley and Westfall joined Wednesday’s celebration, along with members of the Pickaway County Sheriff’s Office and representatives of the Ruth Neff D.A.R.E. Fund that supports the local drug education program.
“This was the best-kept secret,” Thomas told the crowd who just minutes before had cheered when he entered the coliseum for the surprise presentation.
The vehicle unveiled Wednesday is emblazoned with the American flag and D.A.R.E. motif, along with the logos of each of the four county school districts involved in the program.
Rob Bastian, representing Hetty’s Hopes and Dreams, pointed out many of the vehicle’s features, including several special decals and a siren previously used by the New York City Fire Department.
Deputy Thomas, who has served as Pickaway County’s D.A.R.E. officer for nearly 20 years, was brought to tears several times during the presentation, saying he was humbled by the gift and by so many people taking the time to attend Wednesday’s event.
“We’ve got a really strong D.A.R.E. program here in Pickaway County, and it’s because of the people in this room,” Thomas said. “It’s because of the support we have, the community we live in. I really am humbled by the fact you would come out here and take time to share this with us. Thank you very much.”
Thomas is only the second D.A.R.E. officer for the Pickaway County Sheriff’s Office since the program’s inception in 1990. Sgt. Harold Hopkins was the first, beginning his D.A.R.E. tenure in the infancy of the program started by retired Sheriff Dwight Radcliff and Ruth Neff, former Pickaway County Commissioner.
Neff’s grandchildren, Anthony Neff, Jeremy Neff and Hillary Neff Webb, created the Ruth Neff D.A.R.E. Fund in 2011 to honor their late grandmother and provide continuing support for the program that was so dear to her. The fund is hosted through the Pickaway County Community Foundation.
In a joint statement, the Neff grandchildren praised Thomas for the work he has done with the local program.
“Dale has always been one to go above and beyond, to do anything that he’s asked to support the D.A.R.E. program,” the statement reads. “We truly believe that the students look up to him as a hero, and the kids really have a strong connection with him.”
Sheriff Robert Radcliff said the people involved in the local D.A.R.E. program and the community support it receives are the keys to the program’s longevity in Pickaway County.
“We are proud of our program and the job Dale does,” Radcliff said. “We’re also very grateful for the support we have, because while many D.A.R.E. programs have been cut, we’ve been able to strengthen ours.”
Radcliff said his office also is grateful to Hetty’s Hopes and Dreams, not only for the donation of the D.A.R.E. vehicle but for its continued involvement and support of the program.
More photos from this event can be found on the Pickaway News Journal’s Facebook page.
This article originally appeared on The Pickaway News Journal