Almanac

News - May 8, 2013

Steering kids away from drugs

Couple recognized for 10-year effort.

by Renee Batti

Programs designed to help steer kids away from drugs, such as Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.), can be only as effective as the people who work face to face with the kids.

Over the past 10 years, about 2,000 local elementary school children have come face to face with two individuals, working through the Atherton Police Department's D.A.R.E. program, who have engaged them in projects and activities designed to build character and good judgment — essential, they say, to giving young people what it takes to reject self-destructive behavior such as substance abuse.

At a recent Atherton City Council meeting, Police Chief Ed Flint saluted those individuals — a longtime married couple — saying: "There are D.A.R.E. programs, and there are D.A.R.E. programs. And then there's the Bruce and Ruth Potts program."

The chief and City Council were honoring the couple as they prepared to retire and wrap up their decade of work in the schools; they presented Bruce and Ruth Potts with a proclamation commending work that "prepared our future leaders ... with the empowerment to stand tall and away from drug abuse."

"I've seen (D.A.R.E. programs) in three or four other jurisdictions," Chief Flint said, addressing the couple. "But the level you guys have taken it is absolutely amazing."

"I know the time they put into it — most of it is unpaid," he said. It will be a challenge for staff to find their replacement, he added, "because people like (them) are very rare."

Chief Flint told the Almanac that he'll be working to find new leadership for the program, "but right now we don't have anybody to fill those shoes." Officially, Bruce Potts, a reserve police officer, headed the program. But "Ruth did an awful lot of work behind the scenes," Chief Flint said.

The resolution was presented to the Pottses in February, but Mr. Potts didn't actually hang up his hat until mid-April, when he made a final appearance in a classroom at St. Joseph's School.

That act constituted his second "retirement." He joined the Atherton police department as a reserve officer in 2001 after serving as a full-time police officer in San Carlos for 31 years. During his San Carlos tenure, Officer Potts began leading that department's D.A.R.E. program in 1996.

After Officer Potts' first retirement, Atherton's police chief at the time, Bob Brennan, recruited Mr. Potts to run the local D.A.R.E program, he said, adding that he began classroom visits in 2002.

Begun in 1983, D.A.R.E. is a nationwide program that, according to its website, gives kids "the skills they need to avoid involvement in drugs, gangs, and violence." Those skills, however, go far beyond being able to utter the word "no."

"I ask kids, 'who has control of you?'" Mr. Potts says. "I tell them, 'you are the only person who controls your life, and there are consequences to every choice you make.'"

The course involves lessons on bullying, self-esteem, and developing the tools to be firm with friends who encourage drug, alcohol and tobacco use, Mr. Potts says. "I tell them that it's not going to be someone standing on a street corner in a black coat who's going to be trying to get you to take drugs. It's going to be your friend."

The Pottses organized art and essay contests and other activities, including a popular hotdog cookout, to keep kids engaged with the program. Every year, the City Council would move a regular meeting to Holbrook-Palmer Park to accommodate the large number of parents and other community members who came out to watch the art contest awards presentation.

"My wife has been an integral part of all this," Mr. Potts says, noting that it was Ruth who took care of all the photography, graphics, and power-point duties for such presentations, and who documented classroom activities with her camera.

In retirement, the Redwood City couple will be spending much more time at Ruth's family ranch, homesteaded in 1889 in Humbolt County, they said.

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