Deputy Gary Carver is looking forward to spending more time with his family, including grandson Hank

Deputy Gary Carver is looking forward to spending more time with his family, including grandson Hank

He’s somewhat of a local celebrity and often recognized around the county. Kids run up to hug him. Parents tell him what a difference he’s made.

His name has become synonymous with D.A.R.E.

St. Francois County Sheriff’s Deputy Gary Carver has been a Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) officer for 26 years. During that time, he’s worked with nearly 16,000 students at four local school districts.

Carver has reached the point in his career where he has now been teaching multiple generations – kids of his former students – about the importance of making smart choices.

He started his career working as an officer and then sergeant for the Flat River Police Department. He was there when the four towns of Flat River, Elvins, Esther and Rivermines merged together to become Park Hills.

Park Hills Police Chief Bill Holloway approached Carver with the idea of becoming the area’s D.A.R.E. officer.

D.A.R.E. was founded in 1983 and has been an overwhelmingly successful program. It is a police officer-led series of classroom lessons which teach K-12 students how to resist peer pressure and live productive, violence-free lives.

“Honestly, I didn’t want to be a D.A.R.E. officer,” said Carver. “I was a bit resistant. At the time I was a sergeant and was in charge of the patrol division, we were doing a lot of search warrants regarding methamphetamine. I felt like we were doing some good.”

Carver said he enjoyed working on patrol so he initially hesitated when Chief Holloway discussed the position of D.A.R.E. officer.

But he accepted the position and experienced some of the most difficult police training to become a D.A.R.E. officer. According to Carver, that was when the Missouri State Highway Patrol was heavily invested in the D.A.R.E. program. His training days were not typical eight-hour days. They were extended, exhausting days that sometimes lasted 12 hours. There were many nights when he stayed up past midnight to get lessons ready for the next day and had to be up by 7:30 a.m. The officers-in-training often stayed in the classroom until 5:30 or 6 p.m.

“It’s hard to get a person to become a teacher in two weeks,” he said, “so we worked very hard. It was pretty intense.”

The intensity pushed some potential D.A.R.E. officers out of the program.

“At the time, the highway patrol sent people home if they weren’t on point,” he said. “They said, ‘You’re not what we’re looking for in a D.A.R.E. officer’ and that was it.”

With a laugh, Carver said he somehow fooled them into being the honor student of the class.

When Carver actually started teaching D.A.R.E. lessons in the classroom, something crazy happened: he fell in love with his new position because he was working directly with the students.

“Suddenly I realized I had always seen the other side of it, not the families and the innocent people who were affected by their loved ones’ bad choices in life,” he said. “In patrol, I wasn’t always able to get to know them and their situations.”

When he started teaching, Carver began to get to know the kids and their families. Suddenly he connected with them on a much more personal level.

“I fell in love with my job,” he said. “You don’t do anything for 26 years that you don’t really want to do.”

When Carver first started working as a D.A.R.E. officer, there weren’t any school resource officers in the area.

“It was just me working in the schools,” he said. “But I was always able to call other officers when I needed help with situations. It’s always been a team effort because it’s not about an individual making big changes. It takes a team approach.”

Carver worked as the D.A.R.E. officer for Central, West County, North County and Bismarck school districts initially through a four-year grant. But that declining grant was about to end.

There was one major issue for Carver. As the D.A.R.E. officer who worked out of the Park Hills office, that meant he did not have authority to investigate any issues when he was at some of his area schools.

“I was out of my venue constantly and had to contact the local police departments,” he said. “I also realized that when the grant ran out and the schools had to start writing checks, those checks would be getting bigger and bigger.”

In 1998, Carver started working as a deputy for the St. Francois County Sheriff’s Department (SFCSD). Working for the county seemed to be a natural fit for him.

He approached Sheriff Dan Bullock to ask if he was willing to take on the responsibility of the position of D.A.R.E. officer.

“Dan took the entire program and when the grant ran out, the schools had no financial responsibility in the future,” said Carver, “because the sheriff’s department took over.”

Now it’s been 26 years since the D.A.R.E. program has been provided by the SFCSD.

“Because Sheriff Bullock had the forethought and willingness to invest in the young people and their families and local school districts, he’s been able to keep us going all this time at no cost to the schools,” said Carver. “That has allowed me as a deputy sheriff, for example, to be at Frankclay and not be in any conflict with anyone and still be able to do my job. That was a big advantage in the sheriff’s department with taking on the responsibility of the D.A.R.E. officer.”

Over the years, the D.A.R.E. program has been revamped. Carver was selected as one of 42 officers in the country to launch a new program, the second revision of the D.A.R.E. curriculum, to transition to what the officers felt was more effective and better suited for them and their students.

Over the course of his career as a D.A.R.E. officer, Carver has worked five days a week at the four school districts.

“To meet so many people who were really dedicated to helping the kids out has been very special,” he said.

Carver has focused most of his career as a D.A.R.E. officer on working with fifth- and seventh-grade students. The fifth-grade program was a general base for “laying that groundwork.” He talked about peer pressure, bullying, decision-making and other topics with the students.

For seventh-grade students, he focused on expanding those topics to also include issues of alcohol, vaping and more complicated topics.

“It really is just a whole lot about making smart choices and understanding that there are consequences,” he said.

Over the years, Carver has heard countless sad stories about his students.

“When I see a name in the newspaper who is a former student who was arrested or in jail or who has overdosed, you always sit back and wonder what happened,” he said. “How did that kid end up like that? What failed him or her?”

There’s also the other side.

Carver was at a recent West County ballgame. Many of the parents of the fifth graders playing ball that evening had been D.A.R.E. students of his at some point. A 32-year-old man approached him and started talking. He is a heavy equipment operator in St. Louis and has a family.

“It was very gratifying to talk to this young man about his life and how he’s experienced success,” said Carver. “I enjoy hearing these positive stories and the things that my former D.A.R.E. students have achieved.”

He also has plenty of former students who are now teachers. One teacher told Carver that because of his positive influence on his life, he made the decision to never drink and drive.

“Honestly, that was probably one of the best lessons that I can remember,” said Carver. “That was a huge compliment because he made the right decision based on a lesson we did together in class.”

Over the years, Carver has kept some of the D.A.R.E. essays his fifth-grade students have done. Carver read one recently that started with these words: “My parents chose drugs over me. This is why I will never do drugs.”

“Those kids are the ones who stick with you,” he said. “You never forget them or their stories.”

What most people don’t realize is that Carver gives his contact information to every one of his D.A.R.E. students.

“If you’re out and need some help, you can always call me,” he tells them.

Over the years, he’s received a lot of calls and emails. He recalled one seventh grader whose parents were in a bad argument because the student’s father was drunk. He had hit the boy’s mother, and Carver was called to intervene because the young man had run away at 2 a.m. Carver thankfully found him.

During another instance, dispatch contacted Carver around 1 a.m. and said one of his students had someone pass away and he wanted to talk to Officer Carver. When Carver contacted the young man, he told Carver that he came home and discovered Molly had died.

“What’s your relationship with Molly?” Carver asked his student.

When the young man told him that Molly was his bird, Carver knew what it meant to lose a family pet. They had just lost their family’s pet beagle who had slept and snored in a bed at the base of their bed.

“I thought about how big a part of our family that dog was,” said Carver, “and I thought about this student and knew that bird was very important to him.”

The two ended up talking for about 30 minutes until the young man was calmed down.

“Talking to me was important to this young man,” he said, “and the kid was important to me. That’s what you do, no matter what time of day it is.”

Carver has learned a lot from his own students.

“One of the officers who used to work for me, well he told me that teaching D.A.R.E. would ruin me as a police officer,” he said. “I think in some ways he was right.”

Carver said he grew every day as a D.A.R.E. officer: every day in that classroom caused him to be a better man and a better person. He gained patience and humility. It caused him to care. It made him more understanding.

“Sometimes teachers aren’t privy to what’s going on in a kid’s life, but many times those kids will open up to me and divulge some of the most personal information to me that nobody else knew about.”

Carver said he doesn’t “go poking around in kids’ business,” but he has always marked that as a success in the fact that they trust him enough to talk to him.

“If you establish rapport, they trust you. If they have a need, they’ll come to you. When they talk to you, that’s when the real work starts, and that’s why you’re really there and when you make a hands-on difference because you get to do something for someone.”

Carver said his role as a D.A.R.E. officer has also been about trying to be a good role model for law enforcement. When he allowed the kids to get to know him not only as an officer but also as a human being, they got to see his sense of humor. He joked with them and laughed at their jokes. He opened up so kids connected with him. That’s when he got to know his students and learned about their home life and struggles.

“That really helped me to understand why the kid is who he is,” he said. “We have so many broken kids and it’s so sad.”

Carver said he needed to be empathetic to understand his students.

“When they act out and do this and that, if you’re unaware of their situation, or you’re not understanding of it, then you tend to look at the kid differently,” he said. “You need to understand what they’re dealing with in order to help them.”

Carver said he has had a lot of help with the D.A.R.E. program over the years. The Park Hills Lions Club, local school districts and staffs, and many more have given money to purchase D.A.R.E. classroom materials and other items.

With his retirement, Carver said the D.A.R.E. officer positions have been or will be filled at the local districts with school resource officers. He said this is a “natural thing now that they take the programs over in their schools.”

Carver was honored with a celebration on Monday at the St. Francois County Sheriff’s Department for his 32 years of service in law enforcement.

As for his plans during retirement, he said the prospect of not having a job is “kind of scary.” But he plans to spend lots of time with his family, including grandkids Kamryn, 12, and Hank, 7, son Cory, a teacher at Fredericktown High School, and daughter Amie, a teacher at North County’s Parkside Elementary. He’s also looking forward to camping with his wife Theresa, a teacher at North County Intermediate, who plans to retire in a few years.

“My grandkids will play a big role in my retirement plans because they love sports and they’re involved in school and other activities,” he said.

Carver grew up on a small farm, so he’s always enjoyed being outdoors. He wants to plant a garden. He’s really looking forward to hunting and fishing.

“And all those pretty days in the middle of the week, now I’ll be able to go fishing anytime I want,” he said.

Carver said he has enjoyed his career as a law enforcement officer but also as the county’s D.A.R.E. officer.

“The majority of my career at this point has been teaching D.A.R.E. and working with the kids,” he said. “I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all the time I’ve had with my students and all the time spent with their families.”

He said his job has extended beyond teaching the kids in the classroom.

“I had a little girl ask me one time if I could find a place to live for her sister, mom and her because they were homeless,” he said. “When you’re able to help those people get services, a roof over their head, things like that, well that’s the real strength of it. That’s what being an officer is all about.”

Sheriff Dan Bullock started working for the county in 1981 and has been sheriff since 1993. Carver has worked for him since 1998 but they worked together at other police agencies prior to that date.

“If you walk through Walmart or other area businesses or gatherings, you’ll hear people yell ‘Hello, Deputy Carver’ or run up and give him a big hug,” said Bullock. “All the students have Gary’s contact information so they can call him if they have a problem day or night.”

Bullock said Carver has been a steady employee with the county and has the “friendship and admiration of his fellow employees, other law enforcement agencies, as well as the several schools where he teaches D.A.R.E.”

“We are privileged to have had Gary as a lifetime law enforcement officer in St. Francois County,” he said, “and I view him as an excellent law officer, as well as a dear friend.”

Bullock said Carver has received a “multitude of letters and cards throughout his years in appreciation of his work in the various communities, as well as awards of appreciation from many civic organizations.”

“We will miss the good will that Gary has spread throughout the sheriff’s department and the sage advice he was always willing to give to new officers, as well as veterans,” said Bullock. “Gary’s very best trait is that he was always willing to sit and listen if you had a problem and made for an excellent sounding board for bouncing ideas and thoughts.”

By Pam Clifton. Photos: Matthew Clifton. From Daily Journal Online.
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Copyright © 2022 D.A.R.E. America.
All Rights Reserved.