WHITEFIELD, NH -- In 1990, the White Mountain Regional High School's Student Assistant program headed up by Tim Cummings and Pat Kelly teamed up with senior parents to plan an event aimed at keeping students safe during the graduation season. The event took place at the Bretton Woods Sports Club. One of those senior parents was Mary Ann Cannon, now a high school guidance counselor who says it was "a chemical free party was a great alternative celebration of one of life's special events."

Convincing students to give up the traditional graduation night drinking parties wasn't an easy task. Keith Kopp was one of the seniors who attended and his father Mike Kopp, owner of North Country Ford, donated a new car as an incentive to attend. North Country Ford has continued to contribute throughout the years including this year's $1,000 prize which will be given to one lucky senior at the event.

The chemical free concept originated in Maine in response to the deaths of 18 teenagers in alcohol-related highway crashes. Seven of the teens were from one community. Parents in the community were devastated and determined not to let this happen again. In an effort to prevent the incapacitating injuries and deaths that were often the result of teens driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs, the parents organized "Project Graduation." From that school the idea spread. By 1985, 95 percent of the high schools in Maine were hosting successful chemical-free parties. Today, chemical free graduation parties are the norm. The event has achieved its goal of saving lives.

Whitefield Police Chief Ed Samson confirms "not a single student has died or been seriously injured in our district during the graduation season in 25 years." Chief Samson also wants to remind parents that hosting drinking parties (even if you take their keys) for minors is illegal.

Organizing and raising the $10,000 to support the event every year is no easy feat. It wouldn't be possible at all without the generous and consistent support of the local businesses and civic organizations. These businesses who make monetary and in-kind donations every year are the unsung hero's of this event, as are the small group of senior parent volunteers who work tirelessly to put on fundraising events, plan the activities, and chaperone the all night event.

This year's event promises to be great fun, taking place at WMRHS with the theme of Hollywood -- Night at the Movies. Seniors and their guests will feel like they are in the movies with events such as "The Last Ride" mechanical bull, "Mission Impossible" with the Bungee Runner, and the chance to win big at the "Casino Royale" games. Bill Rutherford of Northwoods Photo will be offering "Star Struck" photo sessions to capture those last senior memories.

The 2015 WMRHS Chem-Free Committee has two major fundraising events planned for May. WMRHS students will strut their stuff on stage at the Talent Show Extravaganza on Thursday, May 7 at 6 p.m. in the High School Auditorium. Donations will be gratefully accepted as there is no set cost for the event. Students interested in participating on stage can sign up in the high school office.

On May 30, the Committee is planning a big yard sale on Main Street in Lancaster. The Committee is seeking donations for the yard sale. Anyone who has items to donate can email cmcgee@sau36.org or post to the WMRHS 2015 Chem Free facebook page.


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