If you think Project Graduation is simply about providing a safe fun environment for over 1000 MISD graduates to celebrate joining the ranks of the Alumni, you might be right, but make no bones about it, the real question is, “Who is going to win the Nissan Versa?”
This is what gets Chris Godwin’s motor running. As Managing Partner of Nissan of McKinney and McKinney GMC, the “Home of Rock Bottom Prices”, it is his privilege to know his donation is the main reason we can feel safe about our kids’ whereabouts that Graduation night.
“Each year we give a car to Project Graduation,” said Godwin. “That grand prize is why everybody goes to that party.”
Deana McGonagill agrees. She is serving her second term as Chairman of Project Graduation and has been no less than a volunteer since well before her kids were even in high school.
“It has evolved into something that is a tradition with these kids. Some have come as guests when they were undergrads and they can’t wait for it to be their turn”, observes McGonagill.
Project Graduation in McKinney started at McKinney North HS in 2004. The next year McKinney High had their own PG. After that, the two schools combined efforts and when McKinney Boyd’s first group of Seniors graduated in 2008, Project Graduation became a district-wide event. The all-night party has grown from about 250 kids the first year to over 1400.
To most of these kids, the party seems pretty simple. All you need is to have a big barn full of food and beverages, casino games, Bingo, inflatable games, Sumo wresting, music and lots of prizes including cash money and, did we mention, a free car giveaway?
The truth is, organizing an event of this magnitude is not quite as easy to as these soon-to-be college freshmen might expect.
Linda Knapik is this year’s PG Volunteer Coordinator and served as Chairman from 2006 until 2009. With less than a week until the event, Deana and Linda are meeting with their “committee” regularly and note they are still a little behind in recruiting the 250-300 volunteers it takes to pull off this extravaganza.
In a recent email, Knapik explained the remaining volunteer needs:
“As of today: May 26 – we are short 170 volunteers. Most for our 2nd shift. If you are already volunteering and have just signed up for the first shift, please consider staying the night. If you have not volunteered, won’t you please consider coming out and lending a hand? My husband and I have been doing this since 2006, and doing the all nighter – it truly is a magical night and you won’t regret it. Not even when you are drop dead tired the next day!”
Financially, PG looks to parents, local businesses and the McKinney community to support the event.
“This year, the principal at North gave us $500 out of his Principal Fund and the district office personnel is cooking hotdogs outside to help raise money for us”, said McGonagill. She adds that they get support from PTOs and PTAs as well as many of the high school Booster Clubs. “Dr. Thompson at Eldorado Animal Hospital gave a check for $300. He asked what he could do to help!”
“We still need volunteers and cash donations. We are a legal non-profit so all donations are tax deductable.” Cash donations can be mailed to Project Graduation, PO Box 1235, McKinney, TX 75070. “We need more for this year and to help with start-up costs for next year”, reminds McGonagill. Star Sponsors give cash or gifts worth $1000 or more.
“We would love to get our supporters to come out there just to see what they are supporting. Until you’ve been there you can’t get the full idea”, says McGonagill.
Even though PG is free to every graduating Senior, hundreds of MISD parents are very generous and already donate money to the event. Most however have yet to witness the genuine excitement the kids experience throughout the night.
(Author’s note: This will be my third PG as a volunteer and the first with my own graduate. It really is a blast for the kids and volunteers alike!)
McGonagill promises that, as in previous years, the kids will neither go hungry nor without opportunity to win a lot of prizes.
Some of the culinary highlights include Chicken Express, Eddie Deans BBQ, pizza, cookies, sandwiches, snacks, and Tom Thumb on Hardin has donated 1,000 bottles of water.
Here are some of the basic rules for Project Graduation:
- Graduates can bring a guest for $20 cash.
- Guests must be between 15 and 20.
- Cell phones and cameras are allowed.
- No purses, backpacks, coolers, food, drinks will be allowed.
- Kids will be allowed entrance beginning 10:30 PM until 12:30 AM.
- Once they leave, they cannot come back in.
- IMPORTANTLY, if a graduate leaves, they forfeit any prizes they may have won during the evening.
Prizes: Throughout the night, drawings will be held for $50 and $25 cash prizes. Kids will buy chances for all drawings with the play money they receive when entering ($2,000) or earn via casino games or inflatable participation. Kids who wear their PG t-shirt will get an additional $500 in play money.
- 183 Bingo prizes
Raffle Prizes will be called about 5:30 and include:
- A variety of prizes to be determined. (Last year several bikes were given away.)
- $100 cash prizes
- $500 cash prizes – These are for kids whose parents or somebody else shows up to work in their name. There will be a drum for each school and two winners drawn from each.
- All graduates who are there, no matter how much they may or may not have won, get a chance to win the car as the sun comes up.
Which brings us back to the car.
For Nissan’s Godwin, Project Graduation is one of many of the dealership’s philanthropic efforts. “We have given over $600K over the last five years to our community”, he boasts. “In addition to our Project Graduation participation, we have given away free cars to needy families in our Free Car Friday promotions, $100K-$125K in scholarships to the McKinney Education Foundation, a car at McKinney Relay for Life, and two cars to Minnie’s Food Pantry which serves all of Collin County.”
“We spend far less in traditional advertising to be able to do this. It’s huge commitment and we’re glad to be a part of it. The truth is, there’s no measure of how many lives or tragic accidents we have avoided by giving away the car… and that’s what’s exciting about it.”
Deana, Linda, the MISD, thousands of parents, and all the citizens of McKinney agree with you Chris.
But most of all, one lucky Graduate will be smiling all the way home Saturday morning in his or her beautiful blue Nissan Versa.
For more information on how you can support Project Graduation this year, visit the PG website at www.mckinneys-project-graduation.com.