An estimated 3,000 or more seniors will graduate from Frederick County Public Schools this year, making the week of June 4 through 8 a busy, and sometimes stressful, time for students and parents.
But some parents are finding it extra stressful as they hit the pavement to raise funds for their students to attend Safe and Sane — a substance-free, graduation-night event that keeps students off the road at one of the most statistically dangerous times of the year for high school students.
But as the economy has suffered, so too has the funding for Safe and Sane. Add to that the cost of running a nonprofit in the absence of aid from Parent Teacher Associations and the problem escalates.
“The economy is just hitting everybody really hard,” said Linda Callahan, treasurer for Frederick High School’s Safe and Sane. “Although people say the economy is turning around, we’re really struggling this year.”
Frederick’s Safe and Sane will take place June 4 at Adventure Park in New Market. Callahan said earlier this year the committee still was short about $8,000 needed to host the event and still be able to give seniors something to go home with.
On Tuesday, she said the group had raised just enough money to stage the event. She said the committee hoped to raise an additional $1,000 in the remaining days before to help more students in financial need attend the event, which costs $75 for those registering late.
“We will not be able to provide any extras for the evening, but we are all very much relieved that we will be able to provide a safe environment for our students the night of graduation,” Callahan said.
Callahan said she was pleased with the response of businesses willing to give small, one-time donations to the committee in the beginning of the year, but has found difficulty soliciting larger monetary donations.
“The economy is so bad that businesses that usually donate can’t donate,” she said. “A lot of parents are out of work, things are really tight for families and they’re not able to support our fundraising events either.”
And although she has seen signs of encouragement that students want to attend, an increasing number have approached the committee about needing help from financial aid to go.
Trouble at UrbanaFrederick High School is not alone.
Kim Wolf, Safe and Sane co-chair for Urbana High School, said part of the problem recently is competition.
“Everybody is tightening their belts, so instead of giving to everybody, they’re picking and choosing,” Wolf said. “And we understand that.”
Wolf is in her fourth year helping to put together a Safe and Sane night for Urbana seniors, set to take place on June 8 at the Frederick Indoor Sports Center.
“We always pull it off somehow but it’s always a struggle,” Wolf said. “The business donations are at maybe a quarter of what they were last year.”
Urbana Safe and Sane Treasurer Leslie Whitestone said it is in need of about $3,000 to $4,000 to cover expenses for this year, Whitestone said. Even so, earlier this year she reported fundraising was down about $1,800 from previous years’ fundraising efforts.
Urbana expects to graduate about 480 seniors — the largest senior class to date. Attendance for Safe and Sane consistently has been about 90 percent, Whitestone said.
Angela LaPointe, Urbana High School alum from the Class of 2006, said she is surprised the committee is having as much trouble as they are, but agrees the value of the event has changed — to parents.
“When I was a senior the parents understood the importance of it a lot more,” LaPointe said. “I think because it’s been more difficult in the past few years, the parents are different than when I was graduating.”
As for student interest, LaPointe said lower funding and the less-extravagant prizes that come with that could be an issue, but the high attendance rate also means those who don’t go will have little else to do.
Increasing fixed costs
Gov. Thomas Johnson High School expects to graduate about 439 seniors on June 4 with an invitation to enjoy a substance-free night at the St. Mary’s ARCC Arena immediately following their evening ceremony.
Like Frederick and Urbana, it must pay for the $25,000 event on its own this year. That’s down almost $10,000 from last year, mostly because it has had to reduce the quantity or quality of giveaways, Treasurer Cathy Menzel said.
And although its donations and attendance are about par with Treasurer Cathy Menzel’s records from two years ago when she helped coordinate the event for another child, Menzel said the fixed costs, such as renting a facility, paying the disc jockey and securing the inflatable rides have increased.
It also was unable to host a track event that previously generated about $3,100 this year, Mezel said.
“We’ve tried to keep the price the same so all students can attend, so we’re working extra hard to compensate for fixed costs,” she said. “It’s been a little rougher this year people are still trying to recover from the recession. Some businesses that have given in the past can’t do so now.”
Optimism aheadThe Safe and Sane committee for Thomas Johnson High also hosted a fundraiser in late April to generate more funding in addition to the general “last-minute rush” of students registering.
“We just keep hitting the pavement,” Menzel said. “We’ve tried to keep the price the same so all students can attend so we’re working extra hard to compensate for fixed costs.”
Urbana Senior Class President Ausinette Rodriguez, 18, also is optimistic.
“A lot of my friends are already signed up,” she said last month. “Seniors in the past still talk about it. Everybody has pretty high expectations of what it will be.”
But Rodriguez also sees the community value of the event: “There’s no chance of [poor decisions] happening and in the morning you don’t have to worry about anyone getting home,” she said.
“I’m really excited and I hope everybody gets to go. It’s going to be the last time we get to see each other for a while.”