Project Graduation grows into 24-hour party; provides safe celebration for seniors

Published 4:06 pm Saturday, June 5, 2004

By By JAMES COLLINS / Niles Daily Star
NILES -- After last week's graduation ceremony, a majority of the Niles High School Class of 2004 loaded into four buses and embarked on the school's first ever 24-hour Project Graduation trip.
The extensive trip, packed full of fun, food and a day-long excursion to Cedar Point, provides a safe social alternative to a monumental night that is sometimes notorious for wild parties.
The trip was made possible by a tremendous amount of support from the community and a dedicated group of volunteers.
At the helm of the project, which included about 100 parent volunteers and a number of different planning committees, were co-chairs Hunt and his wife Mickie and treasurers Vicki and Mick Kidwell.
Local businesses and community members also helped to make the night a success by donating money, food and other goods and services.
Through fundraisers and donations, the project's planning committees were able to work with a budget of about $25,000.
In addition to providing a social alternative to the seniors, the trip is also meant to be a special night for these students to celebrate the time and effort that they put into graduating from high school.
With more than 200 graduates at Niles High School this year, Project Graduation was well attended with 169 participating seniors.
Hunt said he has been getting nothing but positive feedback from everyone who was involved.
Jami Fujawa, 18, said she is glad the school offers an alternative to her classmates, who may otherwise make some bad decisions that could lead to destructive behavior.
Annalea Crouch, 18, who got to go make her first trip to Cedar Point, agreed that it was a memorable night.
While Project Graduation may be the last night that a lot of the seniors will be together, it also marked one of the first times that they were all brought together for a social event.
Though the trip lasted for a little more than 24 hours, Renbarger said the bus trip to and from Cedar Point provided plenty of time for sleep.
The night began immediately following Thursday night's graduation ceremony. The 169 participants put on their Project Graduation T-shirts and met in the front of the high school to pile into the school buses that would take them to secret destinations around the area.
Numerous parents helped with the preparation of the project and about 25 parents came along for the entire 24 hours.
The trip began with a stop at Galaxy Roller Rink and then moved on to the American Legion for a carnival that included popular games and activities like "Bozo buckets," washer toss, a balloon/dart toss and airbrush tattoos. Most of the games were handmade by volunteer parents.
The next stops were at Bethel College for an improv comedy show and a bowling outing at Beacon Bowl in South Bend, Ind. They wrapped up the fun night with a large breakfast that was prepared and served by the Howard Township Fire Department.
The school buses had to be returned by morning, so the group made a stop at the high school to exchange the buses for a set of four charter buses to take to Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio.
After a full day at the amusement park, the seniors arrived back in Niles at about 10 p.m. on Friday night.
Thanks to the hard work of the volunteer parents and the overwhelming support of the community, Project Graduation was a successful night that will never be forgotten by this group of graduates.