‘Chem-Free’ great end to graduation

Sarah Pruys

When “Chem-Free” was started many years ago, it consisted of not much more than a broken karaoke machine and some egg and spoon races out at Sunny Cove Camp.
Now, students finishing Grade 12 head out to the Memorial Sports Centre for six hours full of games, snacks, and prizes, starting at 10 p.m. and going to 4 a.m.
With many businesses in town donating food and prizes, and parents, teachers, and students all working together to plan the event, it is a night that everyone looks forward too.
Math teacher Brian Gustafson has been organizing the event for the past nine years, and said that they start planning it in January.
“The starting point for me is contacting all of the parents of potential grads, and we have our first meeting in February, and then from there, the parents divide into different committees,” he explained.
“One is the fundraising committee, and they go out to different businesses and organizations [across the district] for prizes and financial donations.”
“And then you have a committee looking after the games and entertainment, another one looking after food, another looking after volunteers, and the last one looking after venue set-up.”
Normally, the committee is made up of about 10-15 people, but on the night of graduation 40-50 parents attend to help run the event.
“Oh yes,” he said, the parents also have fun. “Initially it’s a lot of work, but I think in the end the parents are really supportive and they think it’s a really good thing.”
Gustafson added, “From the responses I get [from the students], it’s all positive.”
The event is similar each year, and as the students are only allowed to attend once the activities do not have to be changed yearly.
“The general format is the same. We bring in the air bounce toys from Toronto every year, but we’ve added laser tag and MuchMusic,” he noted.
The MuchMusic activity comes from Toronto or Winnipeg, playing music videos and setting up a dance upstairs, while the laser tag and air bounce toys are set up in the arena downstairs.
In addition, there was an air bounce obstacle course, a “log run,” and a type of jousting, and gambling with “Muskie Money” to name a few. There are also smaller games, like watermelon eating contests and “Name That Tune.”
“If you look on the arena floor going into graduation, there’s nothing there, and within an hour after grad everything is set up and the kids are their doing their stuff,” said Gustafson. “By the time the kids go home it’s cleared up again.”
While the students receive prizes during the last hour, their parents are hard at work cleaning everything up.
“We get some big donations … but a lot of it comes down to money,” he said on the prizes.
As the students finally sit down, names are drawn and the prizes are given out.
“In total, I would say we had $10,000 in either donated prizes or financial donations that we then made into purchases,” said Gustafson. “Every kid left with about $75 in prizes.”
They also rent the arena, the air bounce toys, a DJ, and purchase food, and supplies for the games.
“The overall budget is probably around $18,000,” Gustafson estimated.
“The fundraising the kids and parents do, between the tag days, the cake roulette at the trade show, and Spring Fever Days … there’s over $4,000 raised there,” he added.
“It’s a lot of work but there’s the big payoff in the end,” said Gustafson. “The kids are safe for the night, so it’s a worthwhile thing to do.
“And you know that the parents appreciate it, and the community appreciates it.”