Roselle Park High School (RPHS) senior parents Jodi Bellomo and Sharon Curia, along with former Roselle Park Mayor Joseph DeIorio, approached the governing body at the May 7th Mayor & Council meeting to ask for help in bringing back to life the 2015 Project Graduation, although under a slightly different name – tentatively called ‘Operation Graduation’. The goal is to have it on the same night as graduation, which is June 19th.
Ms. Bellomo along with a group of parents and residents got together to see what they could do to have a post-graduation event for the high school seniors one last time. She stated, “We are here tonight to ask the mayor and councilmembers if the town would sponsor and approve us to continue moving forward on finding a solution to bringing Project Graduation back.”
By way of background, the Roselle Park Parent-Teacher-Student Association (PTSA), since last year, had been asking for involvement in Project Graduation from senior parents. Letters were written, e-mails were sent, and phone calls were made to notify parents of the significance of involvement. There were even incentives such as preferred/reserved seating during graduation but, in the end, the deadline for reserving a location with enough of a deposit and a structured plan had passed without not enough active involvement from parents and Project Graduation was canceled. The PTSA continued with its other programs such as scholarships and donations for things such as planners for students but the matter of Project Graduation had run its course for the Class of 2015. Even after then, some parents wanted to try to try again but, after a second deadline, lacked the minimum number of deposits needed with only 18 students having submitted payment.
Ms. Bellomo said that her group is currently in the process of gathering ideas for the event and that they will reach out to other community organizations such as Church of the Assumption, the Dad’s Club, and Knights of Columbus to help raise funds.
Former Mayor Joseph DeIorio was on-hand to request assistance from the municipality, “One of the things we would like to have the governing body consider . . . [is] the possibility of having the community being the sponsor since the goal here is to keep the kids in a safe place. If they’re not, the likelihood is that they’ll be home or at a friend’s house partying, causing noise disruption, and instead of allocating resources for our police department to go to those locations to stop noise and such, it would be ideal to have a location where they all would come, have fun, and pretty much enjoy their last time together. We are very excited about the possibility of pulling this off but we have a short time frame.”
The former mayor went on to provide information on Roselle Park 24/7; a non-profit started to support various activities throughout the borough that will allow donors to receive tax-deductions once their 501(c)(3) status is approved. Although the event would be coordinated by the non-profit, assistance would still be needed from the governing body. Mr. DeIorio said, “We would need assistance from the borough as far as the location possibly, as far as it’s a town event to cover us for insurance purposes, possibly help us out with some police – some security.”
The term ‘Operation Graduation’ was used for the proposed event so that people do not confuse it with PTSA’s Project Graduation and confuse matters more.
First Ward Councilman Eugene Meola asked if there was any particular location in mind and was notified that the Casano Center or Pump It Up or the Elk’s Lodge could be used.
Mr. DeIorio asked if funds from the Municipal Alliance Grant could be used to help offset costs. Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Ken Blum stated, “The state has totally cut that funding out and will not allow any type of funding for Project Graduation which I can’t believe because, to me, this is what it’s all about.”
Councilwoman-At-Large Charlene Storey remarked that she heard that this year’s Project Graduation was canceled due to lack of interest and wanted to know if the group knew how many seniors could be expected. Ms. Bellomo stated that there were 148 seniors but that no polling was taken by them to find out how many students would be interested at this time. The councilwoman said she asked because she wanted to know what the size of the venue should be.
The CFO asked if anyone knew how much had been raised for Project Graduation and if they were willing to contribute anything to the event. Mrs. Curia responded, “It was allocated away to scholarships before anybody had any idea that the party was canceled.”
In reaching out to Mrs. Curia, she clarified and apologized for making an honest error in her statement and confirmed that Project Graduation money had been returned. Having no intention to make any accusation, she simply wanted to present that funds are currently limited and any assistance from the community would be appreciated. She stated, “My apologies for any confusion.”
Mr. DeIorio expanded upon the need for financial assistance by saying, “The big costs are going to be transportation so keeping it local we would not have to incur that . . . If it’s a Borough sponsored event, then at least we would have [insurance] coverage. It would fall under Recreation or Community Alliance. It would be considered a part of a community event.”
Mayor Hokanson remarked to the former mayor, “As you know, honest and truly I don’t think there is anybody up here who would say ‘no’ but we would have to call the JIIF, our insurance agent and once they give us some guidelines, we will get back to you.”
The mayor was referring to the NJIIF, or the New Jersey Intergovernmental Insurance Fund, a public entity insurance pool that offers Roselle Park, as well as other municipalities, multiple forms of insurance including liability.
“Until we get an answer, can we poll the kids to find out how many would be interested in coming?” asked Mrs. Bellomo, stating that they would begin crowdsourcing to raise funds since there are only six weeks left until graduation and, if not successful, would return donations.
“At the end of the day,” interjected Mr. DeIorio, “We’re still going to be reaching out to the PTSA and to the school board to get assistance.”
Richard Huxford, the Borough Attorney summed up the Borough’s position and the options, saying, “What I would suggest [is] that the governing body can make a motion to give them authorization pending JIIF approval. With regards to the fundraising, I don’t think you need approval to fundraise. In your literature that you send out, I would not put ‘Sponsored by the Borough Of Roselle Park’ until the Borough can officially say you have our blessing.”
Borough Clerk Doreen Cali also requested that someone send her an itinerary of what is being planned at the Casano Center so she could send it to the JIIF so they can know what they will be, or can, insure. Mr. DeIorio stated that he could send a list of what was done in the past because this third attempt to have something in 2015 for high school seniors started the night before. He again added that they would be looking for assistance from the police department, although he was not specific if a reduced or no rate was being requests of the RPPD to provide security for the event. In the past, the PTSA had paid for security from the police for Project Graduation.
After discussions, the governing body voted and approved the event pending JIIF approval.
One issue of note was why not have the Casano Community Center rented out privately and have a group cover the venue with its liability insurance. Another issue was that the reason for having the event far away would prevent any student from being able to easily leave those premises. One last point brought up by some students was that, due to the changing demographics in the borough, a lot of their families come from different states and different countries sometimes for a day or two to celebrate their graduation and to go to an event that takes them away from that family time is not appealing.
“It could be 20 kids or 100 kids,” stated Mr. DeIorio after the meeting about the end-all goal of the event, “It really is about those kids who didn’t have a family graduation party or have nothing to do to celebrate an important milestone in their lives safely. This is a way for the community to take note of a major achievement in their lives.”
It is expected that the municipality will receive information from NJIIF and, based on that response, more information on what is requested from the community will be provided. In the meantime, anyone interested in helping in any way can visit Roselle Park 24/7 (link).
Additionally, anyone interested in becoming involved in the Roselle Park PTSA can visit their website (link).