The fifth-graders call him Mr. Bobby or Officer Bobby. Some in the Laurens County schools even call him Uncle Bobby. The affection for Sheriff's Deputy Bobby Brantley is real, and so is his impact on those children.
Brantley and five other deputies are on the front lines of the war against drug and alcohol abuse among children. Their weapons are education, compassion and close attention to the many ways children can go off track.
The deputies are part of a Georgia-wide program called CHAMPS -- Choosing Healthy Activities and Promoting Safety. Begun in 2004, it sends trained deputies into elementary schools to help children think clearly about making better choices.
In additional to drugs and alcohol, topics covered include handling peer pressure, why they shouldn't join a gang, and how vaping can affect their health. The task is to do more than warn about dangers; it's to encourage students to find positive alternatives to destructive behaviors.
"We want to break into that negative cycle and show them they don't have to go down that path, to teach them that just because their friends or family do something harmful, they have a choice," says Officer Brantley. "If we can save one or two, it's worth it."
It's certain that Officer Brantley and his colleagues have saved far more than that. Since 2004 more that 6,300 students in Laurens County alone have gone through the program.
At one recent high school graduation in Laurens County a student crossed the stage and when he got to Brantley he fist-bumped the deputy and said, "I stayed free of drugs because of you."
Officer Brantley works mostly with fifth graders, but has also spoken to Pre-K classes and high school students. "With high schoolers, my task is to reinforce what they were taught in the program in fifth grade."
The program in Laurens County runs from September into February. Among the 15 or so topics covered are bullying, home-alone safety, prescription and illegal drugs, stress, violence and finding positive alternatives.
Officer Brantley also works with parents of children in trouble with drugs. "I tell them that's not your child you're dealing with — that's the drug," he says. In one case he had to visit a child's home to get the permission slip the child needed for the school's Christmas program. The mother was home, but drunk. When she saw Officer Brantley, she started to cry, confessing that she needed help. "She is now in a long-term facility getting the help she needs. And her child is okay."
Officer Brantley can tell many stories like that. And the children of Laurens County are better off because of it.
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