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Organizations partner to support Williamstown High School seniors

Monroe Lead the Way and Project Graduation raise money for 2020 graduates

The Williamstown High School Class of 2020 may not return to in-person classes in their hometown again, but two local nonprofit organizations have teamed up to make sure the seniors are remembered in a special way.

Project Graduation, an organization dedicated to putting on an annual, post-graduation event for the senior class, and Monroe Lead the Way, a volunteer nonprofit organization that provides assistance for Williamstown families in need, are raising money to provide a memorable gift to the Williamstown senior class.

Monroe Lead the Way shifted its fundraising focus toward the senior class earlier in May. It teamed up with Project Graduation, as the organization is now using its funds to provide a gift with its annual event cancelled. The two organizations have joined local businesses and residents  with a common goal: to make sure the senior class feels loved and appreciated as they navigate the final weeks of high school.

“We’re all on the same team,” Project Graduation secretary Crystal Vitullo said. “Everybody has the same goal in the end, to honor the graduates.”

The closing of schools due to COVID-19 caused Project Graduation to overcome a number of obstacles. The organization had to cancel several planned fundraisers and had to figure out what to do with the funds it already raised for its cancelled end-of-the year event.

Vitullo noted while the organization wasn’t able to hold Project Graduation, it was still determined to do something for the senior class.

“We were just going to try and raise money,” she said. “Put out posts on Facebook and hope that people would continue to donate.”

As the pandemic continued deeper into the spring, Vitullo was heartened to see more parents and volunteers step up to raise money and donate. The organization conducted a lawn sign fundraiser for the Class of 2020 earlier in the spring and has been receiving donations through its Paypal page. All of the money raised this spring will go toward the senior class gift.

With donations already coming into Project Graduation, Monroe Lead the Way decided to step up and offer its assistance earlier in May, with a campaign called Paint the Town Blue.

Prior to Paint the Town Blue, Monroe Lead the Way had already conducted several COVID-19 fundraisers. In April, the organization provided meals for health-care facilities and families of first responders. Earlier in May, the organization partnered with Grindstone Restaurant for one day where 10 percent of all sales went to help feed homeless students in the community.

Shortly after schools were closed for the remainder of the school year earlier in May, the organization decided to do something for the senior class.

“We’re trying to raise enough money to give these kids something significant,” Monroe Lead the Way volunteer Debbie DeFelice said. “We’re going to give them some kind of gift. We’ll give them a bag and it’s going to have a few different things.”

Monroe Lead the Way reached out to Project Graduation shortly after launching the campaign, allowing the two groups to collaborate on the gift. Lead the Way has launched a Facebook fundraiser to raise funds for the project. As of deadline, more than $7,000 had been raised by Monroe Lead the Way on its Facebook campaign alone.

Several businesses in town are also making donations. One business, Mike Hickman Photography, sold lawn signs, with a portion of the proceeds going toward the fundraiser.

Outside of fundraising, Monroe Lead the Way is also encouraging residents to honor the senior class with signs, blue ribbons, bows, lights or other symbolic gestures in town. Vanderson Custom Printing provides the organization with bows to be placed along Main Street and Braves Boulevard.

“(Residents) can do something simple,” DeFelice said. “Put a bow on your mailbox or on your light post or have the kids make a sign in your window. “

The partnership between Project Graduation, Monroe Lead the Way, businesses and residents in Monroe Township has produced a community effort to honor the senior class. Vitullo applauded everyone’s efforts and encouraged residents to continue getting involved.

“The more people to help the graduates, the better,” she said.

A donation page has been set up on Monroe Lead the Way’s Facebook page, www.facebook.com/MonroeLeadTheWay, with proceeds going toward a gift for the senior class. All donations to Project Graduation are also going to the senior class. Project Graduation has a Paypal page, www.paypal.me/whsprojgrad2020 where residents can donate funds directly. Residents can also get more information on Project Graduation at its Facebook page, www.facebook.com/WilliamstownHSProjectGraduation.

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