Person of the Week
Sarah Waterhouse: Planning the Party
Noting the disruption that the Class of 2021 has endured, Sarah Waterhouse is proud to chair the Safe Graduation Party Committee that will ensure Valley Regional High School’s graduates have a fun (and safe) way to celebrae. (Photo by Rita Christopher/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
Sarah Waterhouse is working very hard planning a party for more than 100 people, but she won’t even be a guest. Sarah is chair of the committee planning the Safe Graduation Party that follows the graduation ceremony at Valley Regional High School.
Her daughter Lydia Shasha, however, will be one of the guests. (Sarah uses her maiden name rather than the surname of her husband Todd because she thinks with a first name that features the letters s and h, and then a last name with two combinations of the same letters, “it is just too many sh sounds.”)
The goal of the Safe Graduation party, sponsored by the Tri-Town Youth Services, is not only to celebrate finishing high school and launching into the world beyond, but also to keep merry making from ending in disastrous automobile accidents. Graduation, statistics show, is one of the two most dangerous nights for drunk driving among high school seniors. The other is prom night.
Safe graduation parties aim to create a memorable experience without alcohol or drugs. In fact, Valley Regional seniors sign a pledge before the party, promising not to bring or use any forbidden substances.
“It’s an enormous undertaking,” Sarah says. “But not so enormous when you think of all the parents who cooperate to get this done. The parents are doing all the work. I just run the meeting.”
After graduation, Sarah explains, seniors go home, receive the congratulations of friends and family, and return to school at 9 o’clock. There will be pizza to snack on as they wait to load the buses, off to an undisclosed location for the all-night party. The graduates cannot even bring the cell phones with them. The party goes on until 5 in the morning when the buses bring the graduates back to Valley Regional.
Parents involved in the planning and fundraising for the party know the location, which changes every year, but an important part of the evening is not revealing the location to students beforehand.
“At the very first parent meeting, we tell them not to tell. The location is always a surprise,” Sarah says.
One of the major tasks that Sarah faces as head of the organizing committee is fundraising. The group has traditionally raised some $10,000 for the event, which includes a generous gift for the following year’s committee to help them get started.
Fundraising in the time of COVID-19 has been a new challenge, without the big events that are the usual moneymakers. The major fundraiser this year is an upcoming raffle with a drawing on Monday, May 17; the top prize is an iPhone 12 valued at more than $800, with 10 prizes in all, including a $500 gift certificate to Amazon and an Apple Air Pod Pro.
The Ivoryton Tavern has already had a night where 30 percent of the profits from both eat-in and takeout dinners was donated to the Safe Graduation Party. Sarah notes there are also opportunities for corporate sponsorship of the Safe Graduation party.
Sarah worked on the party last year when her son Ryan Shasha graduated; although all the plans were made, COVID-19 forced cancellation of the event. Among the things the committee did to honor the graduates were lawn signs, each with a senior’s picture, that were moved to different places in the tri-town area to honor the graduates.
Sarah hopes that even with the party taking place, that the signs will become an annual part of Valley Regional’s graduation.
“The party is so important this year because these kids have missed out on so much of the high school experience over their last two years,” Sarah says. Valley Regional High School Principal Michael Barile said that actual, as opposed to electronic, school attendance has increased over the year and that some 70 percent of Valley students now attend in-person rather than by computer.
Sarah, who grew up in Madison, graduated from the University of Rhode Island with a focus on textile design and merchandising, and a minor in art. But her career has taken a different path. She felt the competition in the field of design was not what she wanted.
“I loved the creative part, but I didn’t think it would work out for me,” she says.
For many years she has worked for Travelers Insurance, starting out in human resources.
“I never did human resources in school, but it was working with people and that’s what drew me in,” she says.
For some years her work in training and development meant that she did a lot of traveling, but some 12 years ago, that changed.
“I had kids and I said to them that I would do anything, but I wanted to work part time and at home, and they accommodated me,” she says.
Sarah and her family recently moved from Chester to Essex. They hadn’t planned a move just yet but knew they would inevitably downsize with their children off to college. Still, they decided to test the waters. To their surprise, shortly after going on the market, their Chester house sold.
Sarah says it is easier to walk the family’s two Portuguese water dogs now that they have moved. Their Chester house, she explains, was on a main thoroughfare. Sarah never had dogs as a child. Then one of her two sisters got a Portuguese water dog, and next, the other one did. Sarah decided it was time for her to get one, too.
“It was the only dog I knew about,” she says.
As she looks forward to the Safe Graduation Party, Sarah hopes that with the sale of raffle tickets or potential sponsorships, the community will support it.
“The seniors, these seniors in particular, really deserve this party,” she says.
There is good news for the party attendees. There are chaperones at the party, but the graduates don’t have to worry about being monitored by their own parents. Sarah says parents of seniors cannot serve as chaperones of the event.
Tickets for the Safe Graduation Party Raffle are on sale at Compass Rose, Essex Hardware, The Wheat Market, and online at https://py.pl/22zyBU. For corporate sponsorship information, call 860-460-1072 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.