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03/17/2023 07:02 AM

Julie Mendez: Looking Forward to Graduation Night

Julie Mendez is working with Project Graduation volunteers to help give the Morgan School Class of 2023 one final hurrah. Photo by Eric O’Connell/Harbor News

Every year, Morgan School graduates are treated to one last hurrah as a group on graduation night, thanks to Project Graduation. With three months remaining until graduation day, organizers like Julie Mendez are working hard to ensure the event is a go for the class of 2023.

“Project Grad is made up of parents focused on giving kids a safe experience after graduation. We raise enough money to make sure everyone is invited and able to come,” Julie explains.

Typically, the kids are bused to a location decorated according to a theme where the new graduates can celebrate safely. Event organizers are responsible for finding buses, chaperones, raffle prizes, decorations, and even small gifts.

“Everyone, even the kids who don’t come on the bus, get something from the Project Graduation team,” Julie says. In the past, that’s meant gift bags with items like gift cards and T-shirts.

The best part about the whole thing? For the kids who do come on the bus trip, the location is kept a secret.

“The actual location is kept under wraps. The kids don’t know until they get there. It’s a lot of planning but fun,” Julie says.

Working on Project Graduation is nothing new for Julie.

“I first got involved when my daughter was a senior back in 2012, so I’ve been involved for a while, and now that my son graduates in 2023, I got more involved again,” she says.

Of course, to pull off something like Project Graduation requires a lot of fundraising. For Julie, that means everything from running tag sales to even dressing up in the Morgan husky mascot costume.

This year, Julie coordinated the Taste of the Shoreline event. The event featured live music, donated foods from area restaurants, and a silent auction.

“It raised a ton of money, and we had great sponsors. It was our biggest fundraiser,” Julie notes.

Even though Julie says the event was a success, there are still more fundraisers to be done.

“Right now, we’re doing a stuffed bread fundraiser. You can order stuffed breads from Apicella’s Bakery, and the breads will be delivered before Easter,” Julie says.

More information about the fundraiser is posted on Facebook in All Things Clinton or Positively Clinton CT groups.

“In April, we will have a fun event with a hypnotist. Tickets will be on sale for that event starting soon,” Julie says.

Interested parties should keep an eye on the two Facebook pages for tickets. Julie also says the annual tradition of flamingo flocking will return in the spring.

Volunteering within Clinton is nothing new for Julie.

“I’ve been involved at least 15 years,” says Julie.

Originally that involvement began with helping the Friends of Joel School set up its Monster Mash Halloween event. Along the way, Julie has been president of Clinton Youth Football, been involved with the Friends of Morgan football, been a member of the Park and Recreation Commission, and now an organizer of Project Graduation.

“I’ve been working with some of the same groups of parents since our kids were in kindergarten all the way to graduating from high school now,” Julie says with a laugh. “It’s a good group of parents.”

As part of her volunteering, Julie was even able to network with the New England Patriots Alumni Club to host youth football clinics in Clinton that were attended by kids from all over the state.

“I really hope we can continue to do that. It’s really fun for the kids to show them how to play football, and it makes them love football,” says Julie.

Several years ago, while Julie was serving as the youth football president, someone mentioned to her that there was an opening on the Park and Recreation Commission.

“Since we work so close with them, I thought it made sense to join the commission,” Julie explains. Nearly a decade later, Julie is still there. “I’ve always enjoyed volunteering,” Julie says.

Julie originally grew up in Madison but has lived in Clinton for 20 years. In her spare time, which Julie jokes she doesn’t have a lot of thanks to all her volunteer work, she can be found reading, going to the beach, and traveling.

“There’s really so many good things about Clinton. The community of the town and relationships I’ve built all over town. The great beaches and parks and recreation. I like that it’s a town where everyone tries to make it as good as it can be,” Julie says.