Chem-Free Grad fundraising efforts underway

By Allan Bradbury
Staff Writer

A tradition that dates back over 20 years is back. Chem-Free Grad — a safe celebration for graduating students from Fort Frances High School (FFHS) makes its return after COVID-19 shut it down the last few years.

It started at Sunny Cove campground and back then it was necessarily “chem free,” according to Brian Gustafson, FFHS teacher and Chem-Free Grad advisor. The event moved to the arena about 20 years ago and is now designed to help graduates celebrate without the use of drugs or alcohol.

“The main goal is to make sure every kid has a safe grad night, and knowing that things can happen — every kid wakes up in the morning ready to start their lives, and nothing bad happens on the night of their graduation,” Gustafson said. “It’s kind of a gift to the kids from the parents, because they’re the main drivers in the organization of it. It’s also an opportunity for the community to say congratulations to the students through their donations and support.”

The event involves the students taking over the Memorial Sports Complex for the night of graduation. Parents decorate the complex with games, activities, and food.

“We’ll have different games running through the night,” Gustafson said. “We have inflatable games coming from Thunder Bay including jousting, a Velcro wall, and sumo wrestling. For the first year, we’re going to be trying a virtual reality headset. We’ll also have some fun gambling things — roulette, blackjack, and poker, all with play money.”

Food and snacks will be available throughout the night as students are not permitted to leave until the event ends, in an effort to keep the event chem free. At the end of the event, each student will likely have some swag to take home as well.

Gustafson said students will draw for prizes — gift cards or gifts from local businesses plus prizes purchased through donations.

“Typically, each kid leaves with about $100 worth of prizes between gift cards and actual prizes,” Gustafson said.

Parents and students go through a lot of effort to raise funds for the event to make it a success depending on the generosity of the community. For example, as the Times previously reported, the Town of Fort Frances has waived the usage fees for the use of the Sports Complex.

“We do send out letters to all businesses and organizations that we know of in town and from anywhere from Mine Centre through to Emo and Nestor Falls and any feeder areas for graduates, that includes First Nations communities,” Gustafson said. “Some businesses will donate prizes. Then we also do Spring Fever Days.”

The Spring Fever Days car wash and barbecue has been postponed due to the torrential rains over the weekend of Spring Fever Days. Despite the weather, the group did hold a bake sale at the Emo-LaVallee Community Centre and they hope to have the barbecue and car wash at a later date. The group will also be hosting a tag day this Saturday at Tim Hortons and Canadian Tire.

At this point, Gustafson is hoping to see 120-125 graduates at the event. He has seen lots of parent support already so he says he feels the event will be successful. The event depends on parents to volunteer with organizing, decorating, and keeping the event safe and secure. The hope is that all of the kids feel that staying in and away from drugs or alcohol was worth it.

“After that six hours I don’t think very many kids leave not thinking it was the best party they could have had on their grad night,” Gustafson said.

Grad is from 7:30 until 9 p.m., and Chem-Free Grad runs from 10 p.m. until 4 a.m. On June 23.