The Oro Valley Town Council at its Nov. 19 meeting unanimously approved a $10,000 donation for Project Graduation, an alcohol- and drug-free graduation night party for seniors at the town's two high schools.
"All of us have lost someone to senseless drinking and driving, especially around graduation," said BJ Meyer, a parent volunteer who is coordinating the project for Canyon del Oro High School.
An Aug. 5 rollover involving alcohol killed three young people and injured four others; two of the dead and three of the injured were students at Ironwood Ridge and CDO high schools.
"If we save one life, what is that worth? This is the night that these kids have a tendency to make their biggest mistakes," Meter said. "We want to keep them safe." The project could reach as many as 800 graduating seniors between the two schools.
"This is the ninth year for Catalina Foothills in Tucson and Sahuarita has done it for quite a few years," she added. "It's a national program and it's amazing how many of our teachers and many parents from other states have said 'Oh, yeah we did that in Washington or California.'"
Ironwood Ridge High School project chair and parent Mary Snider said that with the town's $5,000 donation per school, the project has now raised half the needed $10,000 to $15,000 per school.
"We anticipate that anything left over will be rolled into next year," she said. "We want this to become an established tradition."
The all-night party starts after evening graduation ceremonies on May 18 at Ironwood Ridge and on May 19 at CDO and continues until sunrise. Party plans at Ironwood Ridge include free food all night, Sumo wrestling, a movie theater, a full casino with blackjack, roulette, craps and poker, a comedy hypnotist, hot tubs and water volleyball. CDO opted to have a sit-down dinner, casino and full carnival with palm readers and hypnotists and live music with an emcee and deejay.
Both schools will have prize giveaways in the early morning with a $2,000 grand prize for some lucky winner at each school. Students must be present to win.
"This is one of those great projects that further identifies us as a community of excellence," said Councilmember Dick Johnson, who is lending a hand with a benefit golf tournament at the Hilton El Conquistador to raise funds for the project. Councilmember Paula Abbott serves on Project Graduation's entertainment committee for Ironwood Ridge. Mayor Paul Loomis and Town Manager Chuck Sweet will be on hand in the casino at both schools.
Snider brought the concept to Oro Valley when she and her family moved from Sonoma County. "I chaired it in northern California when my older son graduated high school," she said. "We wanted to bring it to this high school."
It wasn't long before Snider got a call from CDO and the two schools joined forces to start raising funds. Snider set up a meeting with Oro Valley Police Chief Danny Sharp, "who was overwhelming in his support and has been our biggest advocate since day one," she said.
"Danny suggested we involve the business community and he hosted a morning coffee at the Hilton last February," she said. Eighty-four businesses responded along with the mayor and council and representatives from Amphitheater Public Schools.
"If students bought a ticket but they don't check in or they leave early, we call their parents," said Snider. "We promised parents we're going to keep kids safe that night." In her experience, less than 3 percent have wanted to leave early.
Tickets are $50 at Ironwood Ridge and $75 at CDO. Parents or other interested parties can attend a Project Graduation open house before the party at Ironwood Ridge May 18 from 4 to 7 p.m. or CDO May 19 from 4 to 6 p.m.
"Our kids are really touched by the way the community has reached out to them," said Meyer. "We just want to say thanks so much to Oro Valley. They've taken something important to us and made it important to them and I think that will make it a resounding success."
To purchase tickets, make donations or volunteer for either school, contact Project Graduation, P.O. Box 36593, Tucson, AZ 85740-6593 or call 696-5578. All donations are tax deductible.