May 8, 2014

More volunteers needed to make June sober graduation event a success

Organizers of June 5 event in near-panic mode due to dearth of helpers

Debbie Hamrick of Merced is starting to panic.

Hamrick and the seven other committee members planning the annual Sober Graduation party for Merced and Golden Valley high school graduates are in desperate need of about 60 more adult volunteers.

Hamrick, who has been involved in the post-graduation party for graduates of the two schools for 18 years, said volunteers are crucial to the event’s success.

“At this point we have never been this short,” Hamrick said. “I’m starting to panic. We are now 62 people short.”

Sober Grad events are designed to provide a safe, fun and supervised environment for graduating seniors. Attractions include a casino, interactive games, a rock-climbing wall, a disc jockey with dancing, karaoke, temporary tattoos, thousands of dollars’ worth of prizes, a photo booth and plenty of food and drink – nonalcoholic drink, that is.

New this year will be a comedian, committee member Linda Via said.

“It’s a lot of fun and it’s a great thing for the kids,” Via said. “It’s one really exhausting night but most of all we want it to be safe for the kids.”

Organizers are hoping about 1,000 graduates and their guests will attend the June 5 event at Golden Valley High School, which runs from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. Students pay $30 to defray the cost of the event.

Hamrick, whose daughter was in the second graduating class to participate in Sober Grad, said she just keeps doing it even though her children have graduated.

“I just enjoy it – just seeing the kids have a good time, are safe and not drinking,” Hamrick said.

Via, who became involved in the event in 2007, said the Sober Grad program now is on Facebook. Most volunteers come through at the last minute.

The Sober Grad committee members start their planning in January with monthly meetings and then hold two meetings in May. It’s always a challenge to get volunteers, Via said.

Juan Corona, 30, graduated from Golden Valley in 2002 and joined the Sober Grad effort three years ago. He’s in charge of the kitchen and making sure the newly minted graduates have plenty to eat.

Corona, a substitute teacher and owner of a photography business, plans to produce a highlight video of this year’s event to promote future events. He said Sober Grad is very worthwhile but couldn’t be done without the support of the community and local businesses.

About $5,000 worth of prizes, including a 32-inch television set, an Xbox, a GPS, laptops, digital cameras, iPods and electronic readers, will be given away at the tail end of the event, along with cash, gas cards and gift cards for local restaurants.

Sandy Gonzales, a parent who has been involved in the event for five years, has had four children who have graduated from high school and attended the Sober Grad parties.

“I think it’s great,” Gonzales said. “It keeps the kids safe, which is the whole idea. There’s so much to do. It’s the cheapest thing you could ever buy for your senior.”

But if they don’t get volunteers, it won’t happen, Gonzales cautioned.

Corona said two $250 scholarships will be donated for graduates of Merced and Golden Valley high schools. They each come with two tickets for the night of the event.

Via said the group has figured out what works and what doesn’t. Chips, snacks, nachos, pizzas, hot dogs, hamburgers and cheeseburgers definitely are part of the attraction.

Besides Corona, Gonzales, Hamrick and Via, other committee members include Laura Flores, Robin Pena, Shirl Kagel and Sue Kimes.

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