Never too early to raise money for Newington's Project Graduation

Published on Sunday, 1 December 2019 20:26
Written by Erica Drzewiecki


NEWINGTON - If it seems a little premature to donate to the Class of 2020 Project Graduation, you’re wrong.

The party costs the group of parents planning it about $30,000, requiring generosity sooner rather than later.

“We need to get the word out there before companies set their budgets for next year,” said Cathy Dionne, who has taken on the role of corporate and business fundraising for the committee.

Her son Matt graduated from Newington High School in 2018 and her son Sam is planning to walk across the stage at the Oakdale Theater in Wallingford in June 2020. Afterwards, graduates will head back to their alma mater on a big yellow school bus and party till the sun comes up.

Without drugs and alcohol, since Project Graduation is a substance-free party to keep kids safe as they celebrate all their hard work before entering the next chapter of their lives.

“It was born after a tragedy in Oxford Hill, Maine, in 1979 when a group of teens were killed during commencement season due to alcohol or drugs,” Dionne explained. “From there it had a grassroots affect and towns started creating these parties to keep teens inside on a night when many of them perish.”

Newington’s parent committee picks a different theme each year and decorates NHS. A variety of activities typically include a catered meal, games, a DJ, a hypnotist show, raffles and friendly competitions.

“We have a lot of stuff to keep kids busy throughout the night,” Fundraising Chair Eileen Colonese said.

She got involved in 2014 when her child was graduating from NHS, and can recount some of the themes of parties past. 2019 was “Cities around the World” and 2018, “The Wizard of Oz.” The Class of 2020 won’t know their party’s theme until they show up.

Residents can help the fundraising efforts by “flocking” friends and neighbors - a purchase that wins the designated address a flock of plastic flamingos on their front lawn. They can also purchase tickets to a hypnotist show or golf tournament being planned for next spring, or maybe buy a butter braid or a treat from an upcoming bake sale. For updates, search for ‘Newington Project Grad 2020’ on Facebook.

Companies who are able to donate can contact Cathy Dionne at 860-371-8895. Volunteers typically go door-to-door to local restaurants and small businesses asking for donations, but Dionne is also hoping to get larger corporations and manufacturing companies involved this year. She is putting together a pamphlet to be distributed to graduates, with a list of commercial donors and information about jobs available in the community to those who don’t take the college route.

“Not every kid wants to go to college or the military; some will go right to the workforce,” she explained. “There are so many jobs to be had and nothing wrong with going out and working straight out of school. Our ultimate goal is to get the donations we need for this party and keep kids safe, but if we can also help some companies fill job positions that’s great. We want to be of value to the whole community.”

The Project Graduation party begins post-commencement ceremony and usually wraps up around 5:30 a.m. Graduates who have stuck around until the end receive a special raffle gift – one they hear from older friends will be worth the sleepless but safe night.

“I won a printer I used for college,” remembered Carly Saindon, a Class of 2018 alum now studying environmental science at the University of Connecticut.

She remembers almost her whole graduating class attending. Those who didn’t? Well they missed out.

“It was a really great time,” Saindon added. “I can’t imagine doing anything else after graduation.”

Erica Drzewiecki can be reached at 860-801-5097 or

Posted in New Britain Herald, Newington on Sunday, 1 December 2019 20:26. Updated: Sunday, 1 December 2019 20:28.