Sheriff’s association gives to keep grads safe

Jefferson Co. Sheriff Zena Stephens and JCSA President “Ike” Eichelberger

Some schools call it “Project Graduation,” and at least one local school calls it “Project Celebration.” Whatever they may call it, public schools in Jefferson County are all preparing graduation-night festivities for student seniors, meant to reward long years of hard work and to keep the students safe on a night fraught with peril.

Jan. 12, the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Association (JCSA) donated $1,000 to each of several high schools for their graduation night events.

“Project Graduation events provide a safe haven for students on graduation night,” JCSA President William “Ike” Eichelberger said at the check presentation Jan. 12. “The schools give out prizes, like things the students will need for college and stuff like that.”

Project Graduation events generally provide overnight, chaperoned entertainment for graduating seniors following a graduation ceremony.

Of the $1,000 JCSA donated to eight schools, $500 came from Cops Helping Kids fishing tournament proceeds, and $500 came from association members. Ozen High School, West Brook High School, Central High School, Port Neches-Groves High School, Memorial High School, Hamshire-Fannett High School, Sabine Pass High School and Nederland High School all received checks for their graduation night affairs.

“Over the years, the association has given out hundreds of thousands of dollars to local youth and charities,” Ike calculated.

Nederland High School Project Celebration President Amy Smith said the seniors who attend her school’s event would enjoy live entertainment, a variety of games and a rock-climbing wall, among other fun activities. There will also be several different food stations and plenty of prizes for students to win.

“We get a lot of donations, so we give out a lot of different items, like mini-refrigerators, TV’s, iPads, laptops. … We’ve had a money machine that blows the money around while they try to catch it.

“It’s always great, and it’s safe.”

Ozen High School Project Graduation President Yulonda Eldridge said Ozen seniors are taking their party on the road this year.

“We’re going to the Galveston Island Pleasure Pier,” she explained. “The students will get to go on the amusement rides. There’s an arcade they will have access to, they each get two souvenirs and there is security and first aid there for students’ safety.

“I’ve seen research that shows graduation night has more teen fatalities than any other night of the year. There are a lot drunk drivers out that night, and Project Graduation gives students a place to go to get away from all that and have a good time.”

“What you guys do for these kids, I believe, saves their lives,” Ike told the school representatives as he handed each a donation.

PN-G senior and student body vice president Madison Hamby said she is looking forward to her school’s Project Graduation. She encourages others to attend, as well.

“I am definitely a proponent of Project Graduation,” Hamby asserted. “I advocate for it. We do fundraisers throughout the year, and we get donations from many businesses. We sell T-shirts during football season to raise money for Project Graduation. The T-shirt sales are the biggest fundraiser. Parents help raise money.

“It’s going to be a lot of fun.”