To Every Kid in Town, He's Officer Don
They meet him Safety Town, then again in DARE
There are two things the Strongsville Emergency Food Bank rarely runs out of: cereal and mac and cheese.
That's because Officer Don Poney is on top of those. At every sixth- and eighth-grade DARE dance, he tells the kids to bring a box of macaroni and cheese for the food bank; at the annual Halloween party, it's cereal.
"I just felt that when we have these dances, we should give back to the community," says Poney, DARE officer here for the last 21 years.
Hundreds of kids flock to both, a testament to the popularity of the anti-drug program -- at least the way Poney runs it.
Of course, he takes no credit.
"It's easy to be a DARE officer in Strongsville, with this chief and this mayor," Poney says. "They let us do everything we want to do."
If you remember DARE as a few dry anti-drug lessons in the classroom, you didn't grow up in Strongsville. Here, DARE means a dunk tank at Strongsville Homecoming, dances, a Halloween party, and outings to go ice skating and roller skating.
Want a Hummer Ride?
Poney lets schools raise money by having families bid on a ride in the DARE Hummer. The winning child -- and a few friends -- get picked up for school one morning in the Hummer, with lights and sirens, and delivered to school in style.
Once, Poney heard about a student who had been in the hospital for months and was allowed to come home for a few days. On his own time, he went to the hospital so he could drive her home in the Hummer.
"He's one of those guys who doesn't work here because it's a job," says Police Chief Charles Goss. "It's his passion. He works, literally, all the time."
Poney had been a police officer for only two years when the DARE opening came up.
"I started it and fell in love with it," he says.
Isn't it tough working with kids? "I like dealing with them. They make me laugh."
Safety Town, Too
He was so good with the youngsters that 19 years ago he also took over running the city's Safety Town, teaching soon-to-be-kindergartners how to cross the street, how to ride the school bus, how to call 911, and a host of other stranger-danger and safety rules.
Again, Poney goes above and beyond, Goss says, creating slide shows for Safety Town graduations that include every child in the class.
"He takes ownership of the welfare of all those kids," Goss says. "He feels personally responsible for getting them off to a good start."
Poney shrugs off praise.
"When you've got a job you love, it's easy," he says.
Instead, he credits the people who help him, like DARE Coordinator Marie McManus, who he says "works so hard behind the scenes."
"We were getting Safety Town ready to open, and here Marie was, on her own time, cleaning the carpets," he says.
Poney will be eligible to retire in a few years, but he's not planning to.
"As long as they let me do this," he says, "I'll be here."