March 19, 2018
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The Brown name depicts volunteerism

  • Lef and Janice Brown understand the time and dedication it takes for volunteering for Project Grad. Irene Hilsendager

By: Irene Hilsendager
March 2, 2018

Janice and Leffler Brown have always been on the long list of volunteers. Janice has been president of the Sonoma County Project Grad along with Lef’s help. Since Janice retired last summer she still has her hands on different projects. She has been decorating chair for many years and there are still things in their garage and leaning outside against the wall that can be used for the 2018 Project Grad. She has always enjoyed arts and crafts and said, “You don’t need to be an artist to work with Project Grad. You can volunteer and input your own vision for a certain project.”

Although the schools all work under the umbrella of the Sonoma County Project Graduation Board, each school puts on its own party with its own theme. The party generally lasts from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. the following morning. This event is fully chaperoned by volunteer parents and community members.  

The goal of the Sonoma County Project Graduation is to provide outgoing seniors with a free celebration to commemorate their graduation and to make sure they have a safe and fun celebration without going out and drinking – a danger for many high school graduates. The Project Grad split from the PTA about 16-18 years ago as the grad project simply outgrew the PTA. 

Janice started out as a student teacher in Marinwood in a little school that had 12 layers of wallpaper and all original desks. When President John F. Kennedy said, “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country,” the statement cut into Janice’s soul and started to become involved with the community. 

With PTA, cub scouts, the ambassador program, hanging lights on the Rohnert Park Expressway, art and crafts in the A park, the chili cook off and with three sons in baseball, there was always something to do. Lef also coached baseball for 16 years. It was then that the Brown’s met Jimmy and Joyce Rogers who slowly pulled them into Project Grad. They were also involved in the “Every 15 Minutes” (a program often done at high schools that raises awareness of the dangers of drinking and driving), and Cross and Crown Walking Dead. 

Most Project Grad events are all held at their respective campuses. The campus turns basketball courts to casino floors, quads to beach volleyball courts and cafeterias to beauty salons where hair is styled. Even ears are pierced and eyebrows waxed.

But what the recent graduates won’t find is alcohol or car keys to spend their night on the street.

Some of the Project Grad events at the Community Center were the wedding chapel, Arabian nights, beauty parlor, nail salon and even pitching engagements, casino, fortune teller, carnival and so much more. The Callinan Sports Center is transformed into an indoor play land complete with palm trees, a rock wall, DJ, and hypnotist. The community is invited to attend an open house from 4-5 p.m. before the party starts.

The California Highway Patrol seeded the first Project Grad and donations are always welcome along with many volunteers to help make the night a special one. Janice says to purchase tickets now to have a fun and safe graduation night. 

If you want to celebrate graduation at the best party in Rohnert Park, go and check out the exciting games, poker tables, music and a green screen at CRP “Project Grad.” 

This year’s event is slated for June 1l so be sure to sign up.

The event is always a huge success with over 80 percent of the senior class attending. Though last year the attendance was down, the goal is to provide an evening of fun and safety. For over 30 years, Sonoma County has not had a single graduate die from alcohol, drugs or traffic accidents on graduation night. 

John Dell’Osso also has been in charge of leading the Project Grad and says of Janice, “I served with Janice for five or six years while I was president. Janice was always in charge of decorations and unlike other Project Graduations in the county, we handcrafted every decoration and the themes changed every year also. For Janice it was a labor of love… and her creative mind and artistic talent would never cease to amaze me. I know she has been the president of the countywide Project Grad for several years which proves how much she wants to keep this endeavor a success.” 

There have been many residents that took on the awesome job of working with Project Grad. Mary Pappas was another volunteer along with Lisa Bagwell. 

Pappas took on the job back in 1999 along with having three seniors and a freshman at the Ranch that year. Mary took over the first year after a team of people retired after 10-15 years. Since Mary was new to Rohnert Park she didn’t know too many people as she worked in Santa Rosa. Pappas volunteered with the decoration committee but the following year, she volunteered to be president. The project grad was a $40,000 party and is always well put together. The president’s responsibility is really to oversee the different committees and to follow up with the needs of each committee. 

Janice is very persistent about having enough volunteers and she stressed adamantly that volunteers are the life line of the Project Grad. People are busy and so many times they feel that they are too busy to even do one hour of volunteering but if the one hour was put in, it would save time for other committees. 

Janice stresses that so many volunteers are needed to get Project Grad off the ground and the organization is in dire need for a treasurer for the next year, especially to continue as a nonprofit. There are also open positions for a food chair. They need a food team of five people who will assist with this area and also a chairperson to organize the team and be there the night of the event.

A webmaster is also needed but it can wait until next term for the position. The person who knows Word Press hosted with goDaddy, would also run the constant contact account and the Facebook page.

The treasurer is badly needed as they would like to mentor the new treasurer beginning in early spring 2018. Fireworks chair is needed for next year. There are only a few tasks for this position throughout the year as the bulk of this position is at the end of June through the first week in July.

Mary David, the former treasurer of Cotati-Rohnert Park’s Project Graduation was accused of embezzlement and now has pleaded no contest to one felony count of grand theft and three counts of felony forgery.

David made an open plea to the court on Jan. 26 to all counts against her.

Mary is scheduled to be sentenced March 26 by Judge Patrick Broderick. David allegedly embezzled at least $37,000 from Project Grad from Feb. 2015 to April 2017.

In May David, through her attorney, gave a $40,000 check to Project Grad, a safe and sober graduation party for high school graduates run by mostly parent volunteers.

David was on the board of Project Grad from 2013-2017. She was elected treasurer in 2014 and began writing checks to herself in amounts between $200 and $1,000. She is accused of forging the board president’s signature on the checks.