When more than 660 graduating seniors throughout Madison County are handed their diplomas beginning tonight, they will have a safe, drug-free place to celebrate afterward.

For months, committees consisting of parents, faculty and staff at Berea Community, Madison Central. Madison Southern and Model Laboratory high schools have been planning, organizing and fund-raising for Project Graduation.

Berea Community

“It’s kind of their last gathering and it keeps kids safe and off the highway,” said Sherry Schloemer, chair of Project Graduation at Berea Community High School. “It also is a great way to let parents celebrate with the kids.”

Project Graduation at Berea Community will be from 11 p.m. today to 6 a.m. Saturday at the Alumni Building on Berea College’s campus.

The event committee starting meeting in September, Schloemer said, and they raised more than $17,000 for the evening.

“We have done everything from selling lunches and taking them to businesses to selling donuts and working at a bingo hall in Richmond,” she said. “Business and individual donations have been our primary support.”

The majority of the school’s 77 graduates have signed up to participate in the festivities.

“I can’t give details because it’s going to be a surprise,” Schloemer said. “But, we have many games, activities and prizes for each student. There will be lots of food and lots of fun.”

Madison Southern

Many of Madison Southern High School’s 209 graduating seniors also are expected to go Project Graduation from midnight today to 6 a.m. Saturday at the school.

Students are supposed to sign in from 11 p.m. to midnight, said Jean Abney, chairperson of the Project Graduation committee with Teresa Parsons.

“We provide them with a safe non-alcoholic way to celebrate their success in graduating,” she said. “It also provides a type of closure for moving from this era of their life to the next. That works for the graduates as well as the parents, I think.”

The committee had their first organizational meeting in November and they began raising money in January and February, eventually tallying more than $20,000 for the event thanks to great community response, Abney said.

“(The seniors) will have a choice of games to play,” she said. “We plan to have some relay races, a beauty contest for our guys, board games and casino games. We have some inflatable games that will be set up that night, such as bungie run and gladiator joust.”

Madison Central

Following Madison Central High School’s graduation Saturday, about 280 of the school’s 325 graduating seniors will join in the gymnasium and cafeteria for Project Graduation.

The event — from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. Sunday — will feature donated food and drinks, a local magician, inflatable games, casino tables and caricature drawings by past Central graduate Emily Ruppel.

There also will be prize drawings, including laptops, televisions and gift cards, said Lori Wixom, chair of Project Graduation.

“Every senior will get a gift of at least $65 value,” she said. “So, hopefully it will be a good time.”

The committee, which began organizing the event in October, raised $32,000 through several fund-raisers and donations.

It has been a great experience with a lot of work, planning and parental involvement,” Wixom said.

“This just gives them something to do and it keeps them out of trouble after graduation,” she said. “It puts their energy to better use in a safe environment.”

Model Laboratory

Seniors still have a week of school left, but after the 52 seniors graduate Friday, May 26, they also will have a Project Graduation.

The new graduates will enjoy bowling, a video arcade, karaoke, games and prizes from midnight to 6 a.m. Saturday, May 27, at Galaxy Bowling and Entertainment Center.

“Like most Project Graduations, it’s designed to allow them to have a safe night where they can celebrate together,” said Ellen Rini, elementary guidance counselor and chair of the event. “It’s a real treat for them. They all love it. They all get prizes. Nobody is left out.”

Parents and other volunteer committees members have been raising money since last fall, amounting to about $13,000 through great community support, Rini said.

“I have one daughter whose in college who (participated in Project Graduation) and I have another that’s a senior this year,” she said. “They really look forward to it. It gives them a big party, which you need after graduation. You want to be with all your friends.”

Bryan Marshall can be reached at bmarshall@richmondregister.com or 624-6691.

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