GREENFIELD — The cheers, laughter and applause could be heard from outside of the Greenfield-Central High School main gym.

Inside, students were watching a drone fly through the gym, seeing an officer taser a pretend “bad guy” and watching K-9 officers display their skills. That was just some of the fun being had at the year-end Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) graduation and picnic.

The event was held Friday at G-CHS for the first time in several years since COVID. All the county’s fifth-grade students who go through the D.A.R.E. program were in attendance, except students from Southern Hancock schools, who had a scheduling conflict.

Still, some 500 county fifth-graders who take part in the D.A.R.E. program all year long were on hand to celebrate their graduation. The D.A.R.E. program is designed to give kids the skills they need to avoid involvement in drugs, gangs and violence. Founded in 1983, D.A.R.E has been implemented in thousands of schools throughout the United States and many other countries.

The county officers putting on the year-end event included Hancock County Sheriff’s D.A.R.E. officials Sgt. Christine Rapp and Deputy Kyle Addison along with Greenfield Police Department D.A.R.E. Officer Danny Williams. Mayor Chuck Fewell, Sheriff Brad Burkhart, GPD Chief Brian Hartman and Deputy Chief Charles McMichael along with several other law enforcement officials also attended, taking part and enjoying the event.

“The year long D.A.R.E. program is great, and so is the picnic because we let the kids see all the things we do in our jobs,” Hartman said. “It’s just a good day for these kids because, not only have they graduated D.A.R.E., they’re almost done with the fifth grade, and it just makes it a good ending to their school year.”

For Rapp, who is retiring from her local D.A.R.E. post after 25 years of service to the community, the picnic and graduation ceremony were bitter-sweet.

“It’s so great to be able to get together and do a fun picnic like this again,” Rapp said. “But, yes, I will miss a lot of this.”

As the state coordinator for D.A.R.E., Rapp will still be involved in the program but will no longer be teaching kids locally.

“I’ll miss that, but I will try to pop in on some local classes, and I hope to be part of future picnics like this,” she said.

Addison, who was attending his first year-end picnic as a D.A.R.E. official, said it was great to get the students together and give them some final messages as they head into the summer and on to sixth grade.

“It’s just really neat to see all the kids here together as one big celebration for the whole county,” Addison said.

Addison will take over for Rapp when she officially steps down at the end of December and run the county’s D.A.R.E. program for the Sheriff’s Department. He said it’s been great learning from Rapp, who he noted built up the program throughout the years, making it what it is today.

For Williams, who teaches the D.A.R.E. program for the GPD, this was also his first big, year-end event in person since COVID. He said it’s nice to be able to award the kids with a fun picnic and police show after the students worked hard all year to learn about the dangers in their world.

“This means a whole lot for the kids,” Williams said. “This is just a big reward for them, and we teach more than just saying ‘no’ to drugs as we work on defining problems throughout the year and teaching resistant strategies.”

Motivational “Mojo-Up” speaker Travis Brown was the guest speaker. He implored the students to make good choices daily and to be themselves, help others and to reach deep when it comes to holding their ground on doing what is right.

“You are good enough,” Brown said. “Each and every one of you have the ability each and every day to make a difference and affect someone’s life in a positive way.”

Following Brown’s speech, the officers took the stage and showed off their skills. They then let the students take part in some hands-on activities, including playing in a massive tug-of-war rope contest, one that pitted schools against each other.

Burkhart noted that early intervention programs for kids like D.A.R.E. really do make a difference in lives and, for the kids who listen and take to heart what they’ve learned from the officers, the information is truly valuable.

“Just the presence of law enforcement being out and in our schools, the kids get to see we are people too and that we’re there to help them and not to hurt them,” Burkhart said. He noted that each time he gets the opportunity to speak and interact with children and teenagers, he tells them that the future is bright as long as they make good decisions.

“Each one of these kids here have a real opportunity to be anything they want to be, and I always tell them they are our future police, firemen and doctors and they have that opportunity as long as they keep their heads together and stay away from putting bad things in their bodies,” Burkhart said.