Lots of grad swag bags for HERH grads. (Submitted photo)

MILFORD: As the saying goes “it takes a village to raise a child.” Well, for the 2020 graduates of Hants East Rural High in Milford, it was the community that stepped up to allow them to have “grad swag bags” after much work and late nights by a few parents.

In June, a group of parents/supporters began a FB group to try and create a lasting memory for the graduates, since the traditional graduation ceremony had been canned due to public health restrictions surrounding COVID19.

“We reached out to East Hants for their support and it went much further than we ever dreamed,” said Liane Gillis. “So many answered our call and I am sure the graduates will be pleased.”

Gillis along with Erin Noble proposed the idea of a Grad Gift Bag in sequence with Pam McNeil bringing a similar idea to the two. Even though, Erin and Liane had never met it was obvious they were both in the same mindset.

“As a community, we could acknowledge and congratulate the graduates of HERH,” said Gillis. “Through much correspondence (hours upon hours) via FB messenger, Erin and I got the ball rolling. I do not think either of us ever dreamed the Grad Gift bags would be such an incredible success.”

Requests for donations was posted on East Hants Wants To Know, and the response was heartwarming.

“Every time any of us spoke to business owners/managers in our area, the response to this initiative was nothing but positive,” said Gillis. “Understandably, several businesses had suffered financially due to the pandemic, but we still wanted to give back and offered to enclose a price list of their services or a copy of their take-out menu.

“As word got out that we wished to make Graduation this year a unique and memorable one. People started contacting us to give. We were simply wowed.”

In the end, 160 grads from HERH would receive a free lunch, a discount to a local establishment and some fabulous treats. Monetary donations also came forth which helped them cover the cost of their supplies (gift bags/tissue paper etc.).

For Gillis and the other parents organizing the swag bags, they knew it should not matter to the grads if it was big or small, and that the thought that counted the most.

“These students would receive acknowledgement for the success in a different fashion as they were not able to celebrate all the normal festivities surrounding graduation due to Covid restrictions,” she said.

While Noble worked on a video to congratulate the grads, Gillis reached out to friend Barb Steggmann, an author, motivational speaker, and social entrepreneur.

“When I asked her if she was willing to send us a few words of encouragement in a video clip, she asked if she could forward 160 bottles of her 7 Virtues Perfume,” said Gillis. “Barb was unaware of our initiative, but at that moment we felt our Gift bag became swag.”

The perfume retails for $70 at Sephora and The Hudson Bay. More information on it can be found at: https://barbstegemann.com/

Stegemann became known to millions of Canadians when she became the first woman from Atlantic Canada to land a venture-capital deal because of Dragons’ Den for The 7 Virtues Beauty.

The parents received a call from the Shaw Group and Clayton Development who learned about the project just two days before their deadline for the grad swag bags. They managed to order 160 Apple Gift cards valued at $15 for every student.

Numerous individuals contributed funds towards making HERH Tiger Masks for the Graduation. Chill St. gave them some of their fabulous soda.

“With all the candies/treats, Elmsdale Dental provided some good dental hygiene and gave toothbrushes,” said Gillis with a smile.

The Grads will enjoy a futures swim at the new East Hants Aquatic Centre; the Credit Union gave some fun sunglasses; gas stations donated water bottles and Tire gauges – an excellent gift to ensure safety on the roads.

“Furthermore, when we reached out for assistance for the gift bags, we received stunning fresh florals from GingerBerry Botanicals to have on the HERH stage when the students received their diplomas,” she said.

The grad swag bags were assembled at Gillis’ home, meaning she could at one point no longer see her couch. The bags were transported in a convoy of vehicles from Gillis’ home to HERH.

“This simply snowballed into something wonderful,” said Gillis.

What a wonderful memory HERH Class of 2020 graduates will have compared to what might have been their memory had it not been for hard-working parents, and the East Hants business community that stepped up.