Project Graduation in need of donations

| 17 May 2012 | 02:31

WEST MILFORD — West Milford High School graduation is just one short month away. June 19 is the big day for the seniors and in an effort to keep them safe on their graduation night, the annual Project Graduation celebration is in the works.

Janice Gerisch, the Substance Awareness Coordinator and Student Assistance Counselor at West Milford High School, is heading the charge for this annual tradition. And with only one month left, she said they are short on their funding.

"It costs about $22,000 to run the event and we're running short this year," said Gerisch. "We are reaching out to the community to donate whatever they can to this event."

Fund raisers throughout the year, such as a flower sale, a wreath sale, and their biggest fund raiser, a cablethon, bring in the funds needed to put on the event.

This year, they are about $2,300 short with a month to go. So, Gerisch is looking to the community to help with the costs.

"The cablethon was a huge success," said Gerisch. "We got pledges of over $14,000. We've collected about $10,000 of it."

She said she knows things are tight for people and some simply cannot keep the commitment to the pledged amount. That's understandable, she said. But to those who can afford it, she is encouraging them to come through. And anyone else who is so inclined is asked to send a donation.

It's not just money they are looking for. Gerisch said they look to cut costs and make the night as enjoyable as they can for the students. They are looking for members of the community - possibly former West Milford High School graduates - to donate their talents. If there's a magician, a hypnotist, someone who does air brush tattoos or who reads cards, they'd love to have them donate their time.

A safe alternative Project Graduation is an all night alcohol- and drug-free party designed to give high school graduates a safe alternative to celebrate their special night. Statistics have shown that students celebrating on the evening of their graduations can experience one of the most dangerous nights of their young lives.

It was started in Maine in 1978 when a program was instituted by the state to help schools and communities address problems associated with alcohol and other drugs. Six communities sent teams of school and community leaders through training and they came up with an action plan for alcohol and drug prevention and education programs.

One of the teams, the Drug and Alcohol Team of Oxford Hills, looked to prevent the tragedies that had occurred in 1979 when seven alcohol and other drug related teen deaths occurred during the graduation season. They came up with Project Graduation, an alternative to the traditional graduation night drinking that was a tradition at their local fairgrounds. It was a huge success and the prototype for what exists now in communities throughout the country. West Milford has been sponsoring a Project Graduation for 30 years.

"We want to encourage as many kids as possible to come and stay as safe as can be on their graduation night," said Gerisch.

There is no cost to the graduates to attend. Typically, about two-thirds of the students attend. Last year 225 of the 340 graduates attended Project Graduation.

Supervision all night long Here is how it works. After the graduation ceremony on June 19, graduates have some time to take photos and be with their families. Then they board buses and head out to Crystal Springs in Vernon. There they can swim, play basketball and volleyball, and partake of food all night long. There's also a DJ and lots of fun activities. Gerisch stresses there is supervision at all times - from the bus ride to Crystal Springs to the bus ride back to the high school.

"Here they are supervised by responsible adults," said Gerisch. "Parents can rest easy knowing they are safe."

Chaperones are school staff members and are there the entire time, from 10 p.m. on graduation night to the following morning when the buses pull pack into West Milford at 5.

"It's a great night to get together with your friends one last time before we move on with our lives," said Gerisch.

West Milford High School Principal Paul Gorski concurs.

"Project Graduation is a special memory for our graduates. This is their final gathering as a class and the evening ensures that their fun will be substance free," he said. "For 30 years we have provided this opportunity for our grads, and we want to continue to do so. Please support us in providing Project Graduation for the Class of 2012."

Donate if you can For those who wish to contribute to the Project Graduation fund, make checks payable to West Milford High School and note "Project Graduation donation" in the check memo and on the envelope. Send then to Janice Gerisch, West Milford High School, 67 Highlander Drive, West Milford NJ 07480.