Friday, June 7, 2024

BTI and Project Graduation team up to create a fun and memorable event for 2024 graduates

By Masha Yurkevich

Graduation is a huge milestone and a great reason to celebrate, as long as you do it the correct and safe way. Once again, Be The Influence (BTI) and Project Graduation are working together to create a fun, memorable, and most importantly safe, event for 2024 graduates.

For this year's Project Graduation event,
students needed to have clear bags so Be
The Influence provided transparent 'swag
bags' for the venues that students are going
to, allowing volunteers and others to be
able to see what students are carrying
and help support the experience for them.

Not only does this event celebrate launching the students onto their next steps in life, it also helps students understand and support them in knowing that they can have a lot of fun without using substances with their friends.

As the project director for Be The Influence (BTI), Patrice Leary-Forrey has the role of being the community connector for 12 different sectors, including RSU 14, government municipalities of Windham and Raymond, faith-based organizations, and other youth serving organizations as 12 different sectors have come together to support the work that Leary-Forrey does.

BTI is a federal-funded grant through the Drug Free Community (DFC) serving youth in sixth grade to 12th grade with a goal of providing prevention education in the community for youth and supporting the youth to live substance free lives. This involves prevention education in the classroom, offering community support for parents and youth, and low barrier opportunities for families to come together and have positive experiences.

Project Graduation launched in 1980 when seven alcohol and other drug-related teen deaths occurred in Oxford Hills during the beginning of the season. Led by the Drug and Alcohol Team of Oxford Hills (DATOH), schools in the area and local communities provided the Class of 1980 at Oxford Hills High School with information about the risks of drinking, drugging and driving. The seniors were offered an alternative to the ‘traditional’ graduation-night drinking event that drew hundreds of people to the local fairgrounds. They called this chemical-free party “Project Graduation.”

The purpose of Project Graduation is to give the graduates the opportunity to celebrate their success with their classmates, substance-free, and to come home safely to their families.

Project Graduation is a group of volunteers, most often parents, that come together and organize an evening post-graduation for the seniors around substance-free opportunities.

“In the past, this has been trips to Boston or other fun events where students can come together and have a good time without substances,” says Leary-Forrey. “The goal is to provide students with a safe space and place for students to celebrate substance free.”

Project Graduation works year-round to fundraise and support the effort.

“BTI supports Project Graduation through providing ‘swag bags’ in which students can find a congratulations letter, a snack, a drink, a little activity if they’re taking a bus somewhere to help promote unity and give students the opportunity to have one thing all in common for the evening,” says Leary-Forrey. “For the event that the students will be embarking on this year, they needed to have clear bags, so we provided transparent bags for the venues that the students will be going to, allowing the people who are volunteering and supporting the event to be able to see what the kids are carrying in supporting the experience for them.”

This year, there is an astounding number of students who want to participate; higher than the number anticipated and that has been in the past.

“I want to highlight that kids are choosing this opportunity, which is remarkable and speaks volumes to the team that is putting the experience together,” says Leary-Forrey.

While Leary-Forrey cannot reveal what and where the event will be this year, she makes it clear that it will be an event to remember, filled with tons of fun and memories that will last a lifetime.

“The students leave a few hours after graduation and return the next morning,” says Leary-Forrey. “Promoting the event from the side of the community would be very helpful and highlighting the work that these parent volunteers do to make this event happen. It is no small task to organize 150 students to go on a big adventure together.”

Not only is it important to highlight that this is a substance free event that the parent-volunteers organize, but that throughout the entire year, they put in so much hard work to make this one adventure happen for these students completely free of charge.

Leary-Forrey said a huge thank you goes out to parents, volunteers, students, donations, and all other funding sources that help make this happen. <

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