OCEAN CITY — For the last 24 years, thousands of recent high school graduates hitting Ocean City for Senior Week have enjoyed the alcohol-free alternatives provided by the resort’s Play it Safe program, but with its 25th anniversary approaching, it now needs to rely more than ever on donations to remain viable.
Typically about 8,000 to 10,000 high school graduates from all over Maryland and beyond participate in the Play it Safe program’s many activities each year during June, representing a significant percentage of the total number of visitors to the resort during senior weeks. The events range from activities like rock climbing, sailing, mini-golf, beach volleyball, bowling and beach karaoke to pizza parties and dance parties at night.
The intent of the program is to provide safe, supervised and most importantly fun activities for recent high school grads that visit the resort in June as alternatives to the other activities involving alcohol and drugs in which the seniors might get involved. For 24 years, the program has provided safe alternatives to thousands of graduates, largely through activities donated or paid for with private donations.
In 1989, then-Governor William Donald Schaefer asked Mayor Roland “Fish” Powell to set up a committee to fight the abuse of alcohol and drugs in the resort community. Thus was born the Ocean City Drug and Alcohol Abuse Prevention Committee and the roots for the Play it Safe program. The committee works in concert with the town of Ocean City and its elected officials, the Ocean City Police Department, the Recreation and Parks Department, the Worcester County Health Department and a myriad of school officials, community service organizations and many private sector volunteers.
With the 25th anniversary approaching, Play it Safe officials are launching its Pass the Buck campaign, calling on local residents and visitors to donate $5 or even $1 to help keep the all-important program up and running. Parents and participants often assume the program is largely funded by government grants, but less than 5 percent of the program’s funding comes from government sources.
With the economy struggling and state and local governments still tightening their fiscal belts, even that small 5 percent is in danger of shrinking further. The Play it Safe program, now more than ever, is relying on the donations of private citizens through a handful of fundraising events throughout the year.
“There are challenges, especially with some of the grant money we’ve received over the years going away,” said Play it Safe Chairperson Donna Greenwood. “That only means we have to work extra hard with our fundraising to keep this wonderful program going.”
Greenwood said events such as the Italian Feast at Hall’s on Monday and other fundraising efforts throughout the year are the driving force behind the successful program.
“We’re mostly funded by the people who live and work here because they see the benefits the program provides,” she said. “We have a wonderful business community here and most are willing to help to keep this up and running.”
Greenwood pointed out this year’s crop of recent high school grads will likely become the next generation of Ocean City visitors. After 24 years, some of the first participants in the program are now coming back for summer vacations with families of their own.
“Some people bemoan the arrival of the high school seniors each June and some of the headaches they create, but if they come here as high school grads and have a positive experience, we’ll see them come back over and over again when their adults,” she said. “They really drive the local economy during those early weeks in June when not much else is going on, but they come back over and over as they become adults.”
The first fundraising event of the year, and the kick-off event for the Pass the Buck campaign for 2014 is set for next Monday, Oct. 14, with an Italian Feast Benefit and Silent Auction at Hall’s Restaurant on 60th Street from 4-7 p.m. Tickets for the event are $12 for adults and $5 for children ages four through nine. Children under four are free. Tickets will be available at the door.
The Italian Feast at Hall’s includes an all-you-can-eat feast of pastas and other Italian favorites. The Silent Auction list includes dozens of gift certificates to area businesses and restaurants, hotel stays, rounds of golf at area courses, gift baskets, jewelry and sports memorabilia from regional professional teams including the Ravens, Orioles, Redskins, Nationals, Eagles and more, many of which are autographed.
For more information about the event, contact Greenwood at 410-289-7060 or Al “Hondo” Handy at 410-250-0125. To learn more about the program or make a donation, visit playitsafeoceancity.com.