By LISA CAPOBIANCO
Although the new school year began a few weeks ago, planning for the 2014 Plainville High School Project Graduation is now in full swing.
Project Graduation is an all-night drug and alcohol-free party held at Wheeler Regional Family YMCA for high school seniors on graduation night. The event offers activities, prizes and food. There is even a grand prize of $1,000 to one lucky senior.
Kris Dargenio, a member of the planning committee, is the parent of two sons who both graduated from the high school. She said the committee raises about $20,000 each year to pay for entertainment, prizes, goodie bags, and decorations. Restaurants from town also donate all the food for the event.
Dawn Angelillo, who serves as chairperson for the event this year, said about 40 to 50 parents volunteered on the planning committee last year, and she encourages all parents to help out—whether they are freshmen or senior parents.
“It is extremely important for them to get involved,” Angelillo said. “There is a lot of planning.”
Between decorating the rooms of the YMCA and organizing activities, Angelillo and Dargenio said the parent volunteers work hard to make the night memorable for seniors. They decorate the rooms using different themes. Past themes include winter wonderland, Hollywood, and under the sea.
“It was fantastic,” Angelillo said. “The surprised looks on the seniors’ faces when they walk into the transformed YMCA makes the nine months of planning and fundraising worth it,” Dargenio said.
Staff members of the YMCA also play a role on the night of Project Graduation by helping out raffles and maintenance of the rooms.
“They’re supportive and you form a friendship with them,” Angelillo said.
Sally Miller, the associate executive director of the YMCA, said she feels “fortunate” to be a part of the event, and looks forward to it every year.
“It is such a great way for the kids to spend one last night together in a safe way,” Miller said.
Angelillo said Project Graduation is a way for seniors to have a memorable night together without the risk of underage drinking and drug use. Alcohol is the most commonly used and abused drug among people under age 21, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC also reports that alcohol causes more than 4,000 deaths among underage youth every year.
“They all have the option to be safe on graduation,” Angelillo said. “We also make the night fun for them.”
Dargenio agrees, recalling how one night after her graduation changed the life of one of her friends forever.
“We never had this type of celebration after our graduation,” Dargenio said. “I remember two friends of mine got into a car crash in the early morning hours after the night of graduation—they both survived, but one is totally blind due to the accident.”
Meetings will take place on the first Wednesday of each month until it gets closer to graduation, at which time the committee will meet more frequently. Upcoming meetings will take place Oct. 2, Nov. 6 and Dec. 4 at the Wheeler YMCA. Any parents interested in getting involved can contact Dawn Angelillo at (860) 637-6640.