More than a year ago, amid the cheers, music, laughter and raucous fun of “Dancing with the Keene Stars,” Christine Lane, co-chairwoman of Project Graduation — which the show benefits — took to the stage in the Redfern Arts Center at Keene State College and got serious for a few minutes. The annual event is a staple fundraiser for Keene High School’s graduation-night event, and Lane wanted to thank all who attended, participated and supported the show for their help. And she had another message.
Project Graduation, which dates back to 1986, was in danger. It wasn’t the $25,000-$30,000 annual price tag, though that’s always a challenge to meet. It wasn’t even staffing the graduation night event, which including setup and cleanup is an almost 24-hour task.
Lane noted the event’s 12-to-15-member board of directors, those who spend all year planning Project Graduation, arranging for the activities, prizes, entertainment and refreshments — and the “Dancing with the Keene Stars” fundraiser — was going to be down to just three members. Those leaving included Lane, who was stepping down after 13 years on the board and, importantly, several years after her youngest child graduated from Keene High. And she wasn’t alone.
In fact, community-minded efforts like Project Graduation, the DeMar Marathon — even the continuation of the Keene Pumpkin Festival — rely completely on the willingness of individuals to step up and take on the grunt work. In cases like Lane’s, they do so again and again, long after anyone ought to expect it of them.
With Lane and others leaving, her co-chairwoman Kathleen Joyal undoubtedly felt more weight in trying to keep the event alive. Fortunately, the call for more involvement drew attention, and dozens of new faces showed at an April meeting last year.
Joyal reported recently that enough of them joined the board to keep the event viable. This year’s Project Graduation is slated for June 14. And volunteers are still being sought to help put on and chaperone the event.
All that is welcome news. And again, it wouldn’t have been possible without an outsized effort, especially this year from Joyal. Not incidentally, Joyal was recently presented the Greater Keene Youth Baseball and Softball Association Volunteer of the Year Award. She took over management of the snack bar at the league’s baseball complex at Wheelock in 2006. Five years ago, she become the league’s treasurer, just as it took over the Allyson Barden league and Babe Ruth baseball. An outsized effort, to be certain.
What Joyal and Lane have done for Project Graduation, others have done to keep other events or programs afloat. Nancy Sporborg did it for the Keene Pumpkin Festival, along with a small army of volunteers. And when they’d had enough and it looked like the festival would fold, Ruth Sterling and Let It Shine stepped in and it didn’t miss a beat for years. Even after the ugliness outside the festival in 2014 drove it away temporarily, that group is still working to make it a signature event in the city once more.
The DeMar Marathon looked to be on its last legs in 2012, when the Elm City Rotary took over organizing the race. Interest had waned among top marathoners, and it took a great effort to stage the race. The club chose to involve the community and turn the race into a major fundraiser that would include more than just elite distance runners. It added a 1.2-mile children’s race that focused on training through local schools. It added a similar event for seniors. And it created a half marathon event that’s taken off in popularity. All of that occurred because of the people involved who took on the task: Alan Stroshine, Rudy Fedrizzi, Ted McGreer, Sara Alderfer and Maria Oberlander and more.
This is but a sampling of important programs and services in the region that over the years have survived — sometimes against the odds — through outsized volunteer efforts. Ultimately, to have a successful program or event takes more than money. The key ingredients are inspiration and perspiration.