Last week, Bridge City High School’s Class of 2009 Project Graduation was in jeopardy until news stories revealed their plight. Because of the damage Hurricane Ike did to Bridge City, donations and fundraisers are down dramatically. People were still donating, but the amounts are lower because people are trying to rebuild their lives.

With only $11,000 in the coffers at the time, they turned to the news media and broader community for assistance.

Without fan-fare the Bridge City Chamber of Commerce donated $2,000.00 to the cause. Chamber board members unanimously voted to make the donation Thursday. “A large part of what we do is help the community in times of need,” said Janelle Sehon executive vice president on behalf of the board. The check was accepted the same day.

Jerry McInnis, a BCISD school board member and a chamber director, reminded the board that the Class of 2009 is a group of graduates that have been through three hurricanes since they were freshmen. “It is just the right thing to do,” he said.

The chamber, which is largely funded by membership dues and fund raisers, had available funds in the budget  provided by grants and donations following Hurricane Ike.  “We’re giving back something that was given to us,” said Robert Simonton chamber vice president. Simonton, who is also a Bridge City councilman said, “It was something we just wanted to do when we learned that Project Graduation was under funded.”

Two individuals each gave $1,000, so did the Orange Walmart.
Erik Shaw, President and CEO of 5 Point presented BC Project Graduation with a $10,000 check Friday morning to John Gothia, school officials and a group of enthusiastic seniors. 

According to Gothia, donations were well below normal levels, which was understandable in a community still recovering from Hurricane Ike.

Project Graduation usually raises $50,000 to 70,000. That allows them to give away really great prizes all through the night and offer fun activities and entertainment, such as a hypnotist. That’s what gets the grads to attend and stay until the end. “They come for the prizes,” said Gothia.

About 5 Point’s decision to donate the money, Shaw said, “We were looking for a way to help out the community of Bridge City. Employees heard about the situation in the news and said ‘There you go’ … It’s a productive way to help out the kids to have a great graduation.”

“Our goal is to improve the quality of life for our members,” he said.

Friday, Gothia said, “This should put us close to $30,000. We had $18,000 before this and there are lots of small donations still coming in.”  

Conn’s presented the organization with $1,000 in merchandise. “They gave us a laptop and other electronics,” said Gothia.
Tuesday, Howell’s Furniture presented the organization with $5,000 at the school board meeting.

“That brings us between $35,000-36,000,” said Gothia. “Now we can hold the event.” The money is still several thousands of dollars below the desired budget, but they are grateful for the generosity.
Gothia said he has been left speechless, which he admits is something that rarely happens. “We knew there would be a good response, but, we never had any idea anything like this would happen. “

“These kid’s deserve it. Not many have gone through what these kid’s have, finishing their senior year living in a FEMA trailer.”

The purpose of Project Graduation is to provide a safe alcohol and drug free environment for graduates on their big night. Deaths during accidents on graduation night are what prompted the Project Graduation movement by parents and schools around 20 years ago.

Graduation is May 29. To contribute to Project Graduation, send to Bridge City Project Graduation, P.O. Box 1361, Bridge City 77611, or call Gothia at 882-1217.

About Penny LeLeux

Penny has worked at The Record Newspapers since 2006. A member of the editorial staff, she has "done everything but print it." Most frequently she writes entertainment reviews and human interest stories, with a little paranormal thrown in from time to time.She has been a lifelong member of the Orangefield community.