By Christine Galeone, Contributing Writer
Westborough – The Westborough community has come together for the past 26 years to show their support of their high school graduates with Project Graduation Westborough (PGW). The nonprofit organization will hold its annual alcohol-free, substance-free post-graduation party Saturday, June 3, from 10 p.m. until 5 a.m. at Teamworks in Northborough.
With more than 200 volunteers, the event, which requires several months of preparation and funding of up to $16,000, is the result of an outpouring of support from the community.
Modeled after the original Project Graduation, started in Oxford Hills, Maine, after the town lost seven teenagers to drug/alcohol-related tragedies during its 1979 graduation season, PGW has been keeping teens safe since 1991. The nonprofit is run by parent volunteers. It does not receive funding from the Westborough Pubic Schools system, so it relies on the generosity of parents, community members and local businesses for monetary and in-kind donations to continue to honor graduates with a memorable and safe event.
Preparing for that memorable event involves a Board of Trustees, two event co-chairs, and committees for setup, chaperones, decorating, Memory Lane, fundraising, entertainment, food, post-party cleanup, publicity, invitations and gifts. Audrea Lehman, co-chair of this year’s celebration along with Lisa Nichols, was one of several chaperones at the 2014 event, when her son was a junior at Westborough High School. Lehman, who noted that she’s grateful to live in such a generous community, said that she “was blown away by what a fun, exciting event it is.”
“Every year, the PGW team creates a unique and exciting event that uses a theme – that is kept secret until the day before graduation – and transforms Teamworks into a totally new place,” Lehman said. “We provide lots of food, photo opportunities, sports, games and entertainment in the hopes that the graduating class can have one last safe and fun celebration – all together as a group – before being sent off in different directions. It’s a great time for the kids to connect with friends and reminisce over pictures and special memories.”
Another enthusiastic, grateful parent is Geoffrey Spofford, who has been a member of the Board of Trustees for the past four years, has had two of his daughters attend the celebration, and expects his youngest daughter will follow in their footsteps. Like Lehman, he has also chaperoned past PGW events. He said he particularly enjoyed chaperoning during the last half of the all-night event.
“Some people are still full of energy, enjoying sports, large inflatable jumping areas, and doing a lot of sweating,” recalled Spofford. “Others are peeling off in small groups; some bring guitars and gather friends and sing; others enjoy the food donated by so many wonderful local businesses, and some like to go around signing yearbooks. What I loved the most was receiving the genuine and heartfelt ‘thank yous’ from so many smiling faces between 4:45 and 5 a.m. as they got ready to leave. In many ways, it was the genuine appreciation from the students that made me want to become more involved and help with the overall success of Project Graduation.”
Spofford said he hopes other communities will value their graduates in a similar way.
“We take great pride in our school system, in our students, in our community…” he said. “Project Graduation, to me, sticks out as one of the unique events that every community should have.”
To learn more about or to support Project Graduation Westborough, visit www.projectgraduationwestborough.org. If you’re interested in volunteering or donating, contact Audrea Lehman at David.Lehman@verizon.net.