By Christine Galeone, Contributing Writer
Westborough – The poet Mattie Stepanek once said “Unity is strength… when there is teamwork and collaboration, wonderful things can be achieved.” Since 1991, such unity has achieved wonderful things for Westborough families. It has kept their teens safe on graduation night, and it has given them peace of mind. For the 26th year, Project Graduation Westborough, a nonprofit organization, is bringing together the Westborough High School community, residents and local businesses to create a fun, memorable substance- and alcohol-free graduation night celebration.
Preparing for that celebration is no small feat. It takes a Board of Trustees, two event co-chairs and set up, chaperoning, decorating, fundraising, entertainment, memory lane, food, post-party clean up, publicity and invitations and gifts committees to organize and run the event that can cost up to $16,000. With an all-day fundraiser Tuesday, March 22, at Elements at the Circle kicking off its fundraising events and monthly meetings, Project Graduation Westborough is already busy planning the June 4 event.
Karen Katz, chair of the publicity committee, said that donations, entertainment and invitations are currently being secured.
“The decorating committee is probably the busiest at the moment,” she said. “There are numerous parent volunteers dedicating time and talent weekly to start creating the decorations for the event. Since the theme is a secret, I can’t tell you exactly what kinds of decorations are being created, but if it’s anything like years past, it will be awesome!”
Themes for past events included “The Wizard of Oz,” Boston, Hollywood and Viva Las Vegas. Held each year at Teamworks in Northborough, the entire place is transformed into an amazing reflection of the theme. Last year, when the theme was Viva Las Vegas, the graduates were immersed in a world of bright lights, colorful wall murals, live entertainment, poker and blackjack tables, karaoke, an all-you-can-eat buffet and more. Additionally, most events have included an inflatable obstacle course, a bouncy house, memory lane (with photos of graduates at various ages) and a hypnotist.
But raising the money to create such a spectacular event is always challenging. The group needs donations from all senior parents, local businesses and the community. Amanda Priest, this year’s event co-chair along with Craig Nichols, said that although it’s a struggle to raise the money, the group appreciates all the help they receive.
“Local businesses continue to offer financial support, as well as in kind donations,” she explained. “We are fortunate to be in a community that is supporting the mission of Project Graduation.”
One parent who is very familiar with all the work that goes into producing such an event is Geoffrey Spofford. A member of the Board of Trustees for the past three years, Spofford said that his daughter Hanna is graduating this year and is looking forward to the event, just like her sister Sabina did when she graduated. He said his youngest daughter, Helena, will graduate in a few years and should follow in their footsteps.
“Ever since our kids were young, my wife, Juliana, and I heard about Project Graduation and the chemical- and alcohol-free, all-night graduation celebration at Teamworks,” Spofford said. “We knew it was a community event and one that we would be involved in. I started volunteering by chaperoning long before my oldest daughter was a senior – chaperones cannot be parents of seniors. I enjoyed chaperoning from 1 to 5 a.m. when the pace slowed down. Some groups were continuing to play sports, run the obstacle courses through the large inflatables, or grabbing a guitar and sitting around enjoying a final night together as a class.“
Like Spofford, who remembered the fear of hearing about tragedies that happened frequently on graduation nights when he was a teen, Priest and Katz are thankful for the safety the 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. graduation night event provides to the students. They’re grateful that there haven’t been any tragic graduation night accidents since Project Graduation Westborough started.
“It is gratifying to know that all of the time volunteers have offered and are committed to will guarantee a safe chemical-free evening, in which our seniors can celebrate their current and future successes,” Priest said.
“What I hope the graduating seniors get out of this event is the chance to celebrate a huge milestone with the kids they have spent the last four, if not 13, years with,” Katz said, “a chance to reminisce and enjoy their last moments being together with their friends. A place to create memories that will truly last a lifetime.”
To learn more about or to support Project Graduation Westborough, visit its website, www.projectgraduationwestborough.org. You can also support the event by shopping at Elements at the Circle, 10 E. Main St., from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, March 22. On that day, Elements will donate 20 percent of all sales to Project Graduation Westborough.