Samantha McDowell: Making Graduation Safe
Everybody remembers their high school graduation. Samantha McDowell wants to make sure that for this year’s Valley Regional High School graduates, those memories are safe.
“We want to give the graduates a special evening,” Sam says.
Sam is heading the raffle committee, the most profitable fundraiser for Valley Safe Grad, the party that high school parents organize, along with the Tri-Town Youth Service Bureau, for the entire senior class after graduation.
“The community is lucky to have so many active, creative parents who work hard all year long to provide fun, memorable and substance free events for graduating seniors,” Allison Abramson, Executive Director of the Tri-Town Youth Service Bureau, noted.
Raffle Tickets, at a cost of $20 each, are on sale now until Sunday, Nov. 6; only 1,000 will be sold. There are five prizes in all, the top prize a Visa gift card good for $1,000, followed by a card for $500, two for $250 and one for $100.
Local merchants have contributed the money for the prizes so all the funds raised at the raffle can go to the party. The drawing is Monday, Nov. 7.
The party is an all-night affair, with food and entertainment but without alcohol. Buses bring the graduates to the party’s location, which they do not know until they arrive.
“It’s a safe evening,” Sam says.
Fundraising is crucial now, Sam explains, because competition to get the best places is keen, and knowing what the budget will be, determines not only the choice of venue, but also what kind of food and entertainment is provided. The venues provide those services, but they depend on what the safe graduation committee can afford.
“Most high school in Connecticut have safe graduation parties. We want to get a good venue so we have to start early,” Sam explains.
Sam has done this before. She was involved in the party for her older daughter Elizabeth Cap, now a student at Bryant College. This year her younger daughter Ashley Cap is graduating.
“Once you have done it, you’ve learned so much, I said why not do it again,” Sam explains. While Sam heads the important raffle committee, Katherine Hilliar and Julie Glaski are co-chairs of Valley Safe Grad this year.
Sam’s history with Valley Regional goes beyond her daughters. She is a graduate of of the high school. Her late father, Belden Libby Sr., better known as Hop or Hoppy, went to Valley as did her sister Jennifer (Jenner) Libby McAteer, who now lives in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, and her brother Belden Libby, Jr., usually known as Soc, an Ivoryton resident. Stacia Libby, a member of the Essex Board of Selectman, is Sam’s sister-in-law, married to Soc.
Sam did move away from this area, living for awhile in Milford, but came back some 17 years ago.
She is a graduate of Bryant College with a concentration in business management. She worked in in medical communications, often at seminars and conferences, informing physicians about new medications and treatments. Her area of responsibility was pain management.
Today, Sam works two days a week at the Old Saybrook Raquet Club. “Tennis has always been a passion,” she says. She played on teams in high school and college and has started playing again, three or four times a week. “I am not as good as I want to be but I enjoy the game,” she says.
Sam would have returned to the game sooner except for a serious health scare three years ago. In 2019, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Sam’s mother also had breast cancer, and, aware of that fact, Sam had undergone a test for the BRACA gene, which causes some, but not all, breast cancers. Her test was negative’ she did not have the gene. Still, she was diagnosed with breast cancer some three months later.
Sam has had a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery, and is not reluctant to talk about her experience, explaining that being public may give encouragement to other women who face the decisions breast cancer makes necessary.
Now she has the word survivor tattooed on her right forearm on the image of the ribbon that has become a symbol of the fight against breast cancer. Her two daughters, she added, have the breast cancer ribbon tattooed on their right shoulders with the words Mama Strong.
The raffle Sam is heading is not the only fundraiser for the graduation party. Jim Spinnato, whose program combines, comedy, hypnotism and magic, will be performing on October 28th at 7 pm at Valley Regional High School. Tickets for the performance are $10
With the graduation from high school of her younger daughter, Sam points out this is the last time she will work on the Valley Safe Grad party. It is not only her daughter’s farewell to Valley Regional High School but also her own. “This is my last hurrah as a school volunteer,” she says.
Valley Safe Grad Raffle
Tickets on sale now until Sunday, Nov. 6
Drawing Monday, Nov. 7
Tickets on sale at Compass Rose and Anchor & Compass in Deep River; Simon’s Marketplace in Chester, Essex Hardware, and the VRHS Office. Also online at: https://bit.ly/3ejx0D4
Hypnotist, Magician, Comedian
Valley Regional High School
Friday, Oct. 28 at 7 p.m.
TIckets, $10, on sale at Olive Oyl’s in Essex, Celebrations in Deep River, the Wheatmarket in Chester, and at the VRHS office.