With graduation season approaching, the sour economy hasn’t been quite the party pooper many expected it to be.
Community donations for the post-graduation ceremony parties sponsored by Billings’ three public high schools have slacked this year, but not to the extent organizers had feared.
“They are down a little bit, but we remain optimistic,” said Kelly Smith, the co-chairwoman for Senior High’s party, Rad Grad.
The parties are designed to provide graduates with a safe venue for partying and to minimize underage drinking and other risky behavior. Every year, organizers use donations to secure prizes for every graduate who attends and to raffle off a host of big-ticket items, such as bikes, televisions, laptops and iPods.
All the prizes are acquired through money or gifts given by the community and, depending on the year, organizers at each school will spend anywhere between $20,000 and $30,000 on the graduation parties.
“Some people have decreased (giving), some people have given out big time,” said Nancy Livesay, chairwoman of Skyview High School’s graduation party, Falcon Finale.
Livesay sent out 400 letters at the beginning of the year to businesses and organizations seeking donations and about 350 came back with some form of gift, she said.
“It doesn’t seem to correlate with the economy,” she said. “I’ve been very amazed.”
On May 15, MasterLube will hold a fundraiser for all three graduation parties, donating everything the business makes in oil changes that day to the organizers.
“We owe a lot to MasterLube,” said Heidi Stevens, the chairwoman for West High’s Bear Bash.
MasterLube holds the fundraiser every year. Last spring, the Billings business raised $50,000 for the three schools. This year, organizers are hoping for $60,000.
Reaching the goal
With the giving they’ve already seen in a down economy, the three chairwomen are hopeful they’ll reach their goal.
“The community has been fabulous,” Stevens said.
Livesay pointed to the city’s casinos. Despite losing money with the state’s new smoking ban and the rocky economy, many still gave to the schools this year.
“I think maybe they’re giving so they can keep the kids out of the bars,” she said.
Other businesses donated paint, lumber and other materials for decorations. Some donate the food that will be served at the parties.
“It’s not just money,” Livesay said. “They help in many, many ways.”
“We can’t do it without donations or volunteers,” Smith said.