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PR-B grad blast calls for volunteers

Pine River-Backus (PR-B) seniors could be the last to celebrate Grad Blast if the committee does not find new volunteers.

“After 24 years there will not be any more Grad Blast (if nobody steps forward to take it over). It would end,” said committee member Liz Steffen.

Grad Blast is an annual event organized to keep graduating seniors safe on graduation day. In the PR-B School District, participating seniors spend graduation night at the school with friends playing games, watching live entertainers (usually a hypnotist), bowling and enjoying many other attractions.

“It keeps graduates safe after graduation. They aren’t out drinking and doing other risky behavior,” Steffen said.

The event is traditionally popular among the graduating class.

“Probably anywhere from 80-90 percent of the graduating class will show up,” Steffen said.

Steffen, a 2004 graduate, remembers her own Grad Blast with fondness.

“I always thought it was a good thing, even before we graduated. It keeps kids safe. Talking to the ones that didn’t go the year we graduated, some of them regret that they didn’t end up going,” she said.

This event is organized not by teachers, not by school staff, but by an independent committee composed of volunteers, often friends or family of graduating seniors. The committee sees regular turnover in volunteers. As seniors graduate, those who volunteered for Grad Blast specifically for them move on.

Steffen and her mother, Deb Thompson, started volunteering in 2009 to help prepare for the graduation of sister and daughter, Amanda Thompson. Now, five years later, they are struggling to find committee members to replace them.

“We don’t know any of the kids graduating. We don’t know what prizes to purchase for them to pick out, because we don’t know the kids as well,” Steffen said.

“People are willing to volunteer, but they’re not willing to take the whole thing over,” Steffen said. “When they are willing to volunteer, it’s either for short periods of time or they don’t want to be there the whole night.”

Steffen said many volunteers are willing to show up at the beginning or end of the event to help set up or tear down, but few people are willing to volunteer for the more time-consuming duties, such as buying prizes for graduates and asking businesses for donations. The event is completely funded by donations, so it cannot exist without them.

“The biggest thing is, a lot of people think this is a school-funded event. It’s not. We are totally funded on donations. If we do fundraisers, that’s where the funding comes from,” Steffen said. “The only thing the school has a part of in this is we use their building.”

Currently, the event has only two main committee members (Steffen and Thompson) and an additional eight-10 short-term volunteers. For the event to run smoothly, at least 15 volunteers are needed during the night of the event, though they could use as many as 25. Steffen said the event is almost as fun for volunteers as it is for students.

Steffen and Thompson would like to find someone to take over the committee before the May 30 Grad Blast so their replacements can be trained. Preparation for Grad Blast begins immediately after the preceding event.

“It would be nice to have someone step up at this year’s Grad Blast so we can kind of explain to them and help them through the summer,” Steffen said.

Later dates might also be acceptable, but the committee is still deciding when it would call it quits if it doesn’t get new volunteers.

For more information or to volunteer for PR-B’s Grad Blast, contact Liz Steffen at 218-252-7567 or Deb Thompson at 218-821-2998.

Pequot Lakes High School (PLHS) Grad Blast co-chairs Sue Galligan and Tina Grewe reported they are also seeking at least 12 volunteers for the May 30 event, specifically for the 2:30-4:30 a.m. shift during which students will play games. They are also seeking donations. Grewe said currently, the balance is about $1,500 short from where they were at this time last year, but she noted this year’s senior class is smaller.

“We won’t need quite as much funding, but we like to maintain a starting balance in the checking account for down payments for the following year,” she said.

Grad Blast at PLHS is typically organized and staffed by the parents of students from the junior class. They usually begin fundraising at the beginning of the school year by selling cotton candy at football games.

Travis Grimler can be reached at Follow him at and on Twitter @PEJ_Travis.