Project Graduation offers grads party alternative

Clay Today

June 3, 2010

By Christina Leach Phillips

Correspondent 

ORANGE PARK — After Clay County high school seniors leave their graduation ceremonies on Friday, June 4, they may have plans to attend parties at friends’ homes or other locations, which could lead to drinking and driving. 

According to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a disproportionate number of adolescents are involved in traffic accidents during the months of prom and graduation. The Data shows that alcohol-related fatalities tend to increase between the middle of April and the middle of June each year. 

ButRidgeviewHigh Schoolis giving its seniors another choice — they can go to an all-night Project Graduation event and possibly win a car, a flat screen television, a netbook computer, a digital camera, a GPS, an iPod, or other prizes. 

Terri Murr, Parent Coordinator for Project Graduation 2010 at the school, said:  “As much as we would like to believe that the kids would choose an all night drug and alcohol free party with food and activities chaperoned by parents over the private hotel or home parties of the opposite kind, it is not as likely for the majority. Prizes are the real draw. Once they get there, they have such a good time that the prizes become less important, but they are essential to attract them there in the first place.” 

Ridgeview is the onlyClayCountyhigh school that offers Project Graduation, Murr said. 

Michael Wingate from the School District of Clay County said the county used to sponsor Project Graduation for allClayCountyhigh schools. “It’s been quite a number of years since the county had any involvement,” he said. “We turned it over to the individual schools, whether or not they wanted to conduct the event.” 

Murr said: “When it was up to parent organizations to take over and raise all the money and lack of volunteers – one by one schools began to drop the program. The last couple of years it has been shaky for Ridgeview students as well, but thanks to one or a few dedicated parents, each of those years the event took place.” 

Several parents from the school got together in the beginning of the school year to plan the event, Murr said. “We all work full time, and with the economy, we were worried. Never the less, we believe in the program and decided to take it on. The big issue was how do we revitalize the interest in the event with the kids? We knew the answer — it is prizes,” she said. 

Murr noted that raising the funds and donations has become harder each year, and as the funds and donations decreased, so did the quality of the prizes and the attendance. 

This year, however, some local businesses have come through to help. Murr said that they have had two large donations, including one from Gordon Chevrolet inOrangePark, which is donating a 1999 silver Chevrolet Malibu for the event. 

Nathan Potratz, General Manager of Gordon Chevrolet, said, “We just wanted to support the school and be a part of it for the community.”  

Murr said: “Gordon Chevrolet is the biggest contributor and almost single handedly has revitalized interest in Project Graduation. Our other big donation came from one very generous businessman in town. Recognizing the importance of the event, his company donated $2,500 for activities and prizes and chose to remain anonymous.” 

She said donations also came from Planet Fitness, which donated a one-year membership.  Community First Credit Union donated a $100 book scholarship, and there were donations from the Navy Wives Club and the Orange Park Women’s Club, among others. 

The budget for the event has always been $10,000, Murr said, but that has not been reached since the county sponsored the event. 

“With the value of the car added in, you could say we did achieve it this year,” she said. “There is no way we could have pulled off the event and had as many great prizes if it hadn’t been for the donations from some of our local businesses.” 

Murr said that parents have also done some “thrifty shopping” and have come up with creative ideas to save money for the event. 

The idea of a Project Graduation started inOxford Hills,Maine, in 1980, and it has long since been recognized as a prototype for the nation helping to protect the lives of graduating seniors in all states, according to its website.ClayCountypicked up the program in the 1990s and then turned it back to the individual schools. 

The Ridgeview High School Project Graduation event will be held at the Dye Clay Family YMCA onMoody Avenuefrom 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. on graduation night. Seniors pay $10 to attend, and their guests pay $15 (limited to two guests). Tickets are available at the door.  The ticket sales will give a “starting fund” for next year’s event, said Murr. 

Murr, whose daughter, Audra, will graduate this year, said she hopes that Project Graduation will continue at Ridgeview and possibly be picked up by other high schools in Clay County. 

“As long as there are volunteers, the program will continue,” she said. 

For more information on starting a Project Graduation event, go online to: http://www.maine.gov/dhhs/osa/prevention/youth/projectgraduation.htm

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