(Posted Dec. 20, 2018)
By Dedra Cordle, Staff Writer
As the face of DARE in Madison County schools for the past three decades, Dr. Lt. Teena Gallagher is often asked if she believes the program is making a difference.
Given the prevalence of drug use locally and across the nation, one might expect her answer to be complicated. Yet the veteran of the Madison County Sheriff’s Office says her faith in the drug abuse resistance education program has remained steadfast.
“I believe with all of my heart that DARE does make a difference,” she said.
Gallagher credits her belief to the community that continues to try to make a difference in the lives of its citizens.
It was the beginning of the 1989-90 school year when Gallagher, a former registered nurse who was six years into her career with the Sheriff’s Office, was tapped to lead the program designed to warn children of the dangers of drugs. She was excited about the role, she said, but felt a tremendous amount of responsibility.
“It was essentially a pilot program that had just been given funding, and I was one of the deputies put in charge of making it work,” she said.
When Gallagher walked into the first classroom, she saw young faces eager to learn and open to the idea of staying drug-free and out of trouble. In that first year, she covered the bases of the program and included stories of the heartbreak she had witnessed as a nurse at the hospital and as a law enforcement officer patrolling the streets.
“It was and is incredibly important to make those real-life connections,” she explained.
The response from the students, parents and guardians that first year was so positive that funding was approved for the next year. And the year after that. And the year after that. And so on.
“In some communities, there are no funds and sometimes no support for the DARE program,” Gallagher said. “We’ve had some fear that it would be cut here, too, on tight years but we have been blessed to have a community that truly believes in the program.”
During her time with the DARE program, Gallagher has taught more than 42,000 students about the dangers of drugs and the pitfalls of making poor life choices. Not all of those students were able to stay away from either.
“I have had several [past graduates] write me letters from prison,” she said. “They told me they knew they were making bad choices but weren’t able to [overcome the temptation].
“On the other side, I’ve had past graduates come up to me years later saying they had a blast in DARE but it wasn’t something they took seriously,” she continued. “Then later on in life, mostly in college, they were put into a situation and had that ‘aha moment’ where the lessons we taught just clicked.”
Gallagher said all of those personal experiences, the good and the bad, have been beyond humbling.
“I am incredibly proud of what we have done with this program,” she said on Dec. 12 following the 30th graduation ceremony to take place at St. Patrick Catholic School. “Not everything works out as well as you want it to, but I do know that we have some awesome kids and adults doing great things in this community. Sure, we have had kids who have made mistakes but you learn from them and pass your knowledge on to others.”
Over the past several years, Gallagher has scaled back her involvement with the DARE program, working primarily at St. Patrick School where she was a student until her seventh-grade year.
Gallagher said she isn’t sure how much longer she will continue to be involved with DARE–Deputy Roberta Braithwaite is currently the full-time instructor in the county schools–but she will never stop talking about its benefits.
“It is a program that works, and as long as we have a community that is behind it and what it stands for, it will continue to make a difference in our lives,” she said.