Several high schools are scrambling to collect last-minute donations to cover the costs of Project Grad celebrations, aimed at keeping kids off the roads and away from alcohol on graduation night.
Project Grad coordinators say the tough economy has stymied their fundraising as businesses and residents try to cut spending wherever they can. Some Project Grad committees are thousands of dollars short, just weeks until graduation.
HOW TO HELP
To donate to Project Grad celebrations, contact the school you would like to give to. For more information, go to www.hawaiidoe.org.
Waianae High needs to collect about $10,000 more for its Project Grad celebration. Kailua High is short about $6,000. Kapolei High was $12,000 short before a charity golf tournament Monday. Pearl City High needs about $1,000 more.
It doesn’t appear any schools have canceled Project Grad events, but organizers warn that could be a possibility.
Meanwhile, fewer students are expected to participate in the gatherings this year, organizers say, because families can’t afford tickets.
At Kailua High about 100 students have signed up, down from 150 last year.
"When I asked the kids why they’re not going, they say cost," said Darlene Rosolowich, Project Grad chairwoman for Kailua High.
At Waianae High School about 70 students are expected to attend a Project Grad gathering, from 77 last year.
Organizers say they still need to raise about $10,000 to hold the event and are planning several last-minute fundraisers, including selling orchid lei at graduation.
Renee Bongo, Waianae Project Grad co-chairwoman, said the shortfall is in part because organizers overestimated how many students would attend. (They were hoping for at least 100).
Bongo also said the cost of a ticket — $200 — might be too much for many families.
"Everything is getting so expensive," said Bongo.
In the last two decades, Project Grad has become a tradition for many Hawaii seniors. And schools, parents and police have supported the gatherings, whose locations are kept secret, as a way to deter underage drinking.
THE EVENTS can get pricey, though, with tickets often topping $100 and fundraising needed to cover additional costs, door prizes and transportation.
Pearl City High will spend about $59,000 on its celebration for 215 students. Tickets cost from $125 to $300, depending on how early or late they were purchased, and more than 15 fundraisers took care of the rest.
Beverly Taira, Project Grad chairwoman, said the fundraisers this year brought in less money than in years past.
"The economy is really taking a toll," she said.
It’s unclear how many high schools are planning Project Grad events, but at least one, Nanakuli High and Intermediate, that has held the celebration annually won’t this year. The school opted to focus fundraising efforts this year on a senior class trip to the mainland.
At Kapolei High about 70 will participate in Project Grad, double last year’s total but far fewer than the 150 organizers were hoping for.
"A lot of them were just saying they can’t afford it," said Tracey Fuataga, chairwoman.
She said hard times have also forced volunteers to work a lot harder to gather money for the big night.
"It’s been really rough," she said of the school’s fundraising.
Roosevelt High has the longest-running Project Grad of any public high school in the islands, with its first event in 1990. This year the biggest difference was the increase in requests from students for waivers of participation fees.
Leila Tamashiro, Roosevelt’s Parent Community Network Center coordinator, said 38 students received partial or full fee waivers.
In years past, she said, "I could count the requests on one hand."
Tamashiro added the school did have a tougher time raising the $60,000 to put on the event this year but has reached its goal.
It did that in part by raising the cost of a ticket to $85 from $75 last year.
Tamashiro pointed out that’s far less than the per-head cost of $220 to hold the event.
Some 292 Roosevelt students will participate in the program this year, slightly more than in 2010.