NORTHFIELD — It is a sign of the times, quite literally as yard signs celebrating and giving the class of 2020 a notable send-off are popping up on the lawns of schools and some homes in towns across the area. The coronavirus and COVID-19 affected lives in so many different ways, banning gathering together for graduation celebrations was a tough call in school districts in New Jersey and every state.

Dori Levari, of Northfield, does not have any kids graduating this year but watching the news and hearing about end-of-the-year celebrations along with graduation events getting canceled one after another, she decided she wanted to do something significant to recognize local students and show them their community is behind them as they move forward to the next chapter of their lives.

She came up with Project Class of 2020, an effort to have community members pitch in to put something together and have lawn signs made for all of the graduating local kids. Just one month ago Levari turned to social media for a little help from friends on her project.

“The support was overwhelming and within 24 hours there were more than 50 people who wanted to get involved,” Levari said. She had already done some homework and knew what it would cost to have the lawn signs in school colors and Class of 2020 on a weatherproof sign. She asked each person who responded to the Facebook post to contribute $20 to cover the cost of the signs. Some donated more and Ace Hardware in Northfield and Egg Harbor Township donated $2,020 to the cause.

The plan was to do something grass roots and community-based, so Project Class of 2020 did not join with each of the schools, rather Levari enlisted help from each of the communities of the middle and high schools in Linwood, Northfield and Somers Point. Included in the group are students at St. Joseph Regional School in Somers Point, Belhaven, Jordan Road, Northfield Community School and St. Augustine Prep. In all there are 631 graduates; four from The Prep, 96 from Belhaven, 107 from Northfield Community School, 90 from Jordan Road School, 44 from St. Joseph Regional School and 290 from Mainland Regional High School.

The signs are 18-by-24 inches and manufactured in California, made of coroplast and are weatherproof, according to Levari. Each one had to be assembled and put on metal yard-sale legs. Personalizing each sign with each student’s name on it would be cost prohibitive, according to Levari, so she purchased vinyl lettering with the funds raised for the signs and personalized each sign with the name of each grad.

A couple weeks ago, the signs arrived and were personalized and assembled. With the help of parent volunteers from each school, Levari and friends put up the signs on the lawns of schools May 15. Driving down New Road in Northfield there is a long line of 107 blue signs with all of the Northfield Community School Class of 2020 just behind the fence. The same along Jordan Road in Somers Point and New Road in Somers Point, where St. Joseph Regional School grads are recognized, and Wabash Avenue in Linwood. The signs are not yet erected at Mainland; that date will be determined closer to the end of the school year.

With the funds collected there was enough money for Levari to purchase a vinyl banner for the front of each school and something for the front door of each school. The funds that remained went back to each school. “People had suggestions that we give the leftover money to a charitable group but we had collected the money with the sole intent of doing something to honor our kids that are graduating and I wanted to be true to that original purpose,” said Levari. Nearly $7,000 was collected and all of funds went to effort to let the graduates, whether eighth grade or high school know their community is proud of them.

Each school’s PTO or parent volunteer group was given a portion of the funds bases on their number of graduates. Levari said she is hopeful the parent groups will do something at years end for the graduates. Chief School Administrator, Mark Marrone and BOE President Jill Ojserkis accepted $1,102 from Levari and Project Class of 2020 and will do something to enhance the plans for the seniors. Linwood PTO received $365, Northfield received $407, Jordan Road received $342 and St. Joseph’s received $168.

But the yard signs are not limited to just the Mainland area schools, they are popping up on lawns from Ocean City to Galloway to Mays Landing. Some parent groups are covering the costs and many are purchased by proud parents and grandparents who want to show their student's school pride.

Tim Devine, of Galloway Township, who operates Devine Image Works, has been busy creating signs for sports teams, graduating seniors and middle school grads across Atlantic and Cape May counties. “It has really taken off this year with school groups and parents wanting to honor their graduates,” said Devine. He is taking photos and having the weatherproof signs made and back to his customers in about a week. “When it became apparent that kids would not get to go back to school and finish out their last year as they planned, I think the yard signs became a really nice way to show some school pride. Graduation is important to the kids and to their parents and families as well. I think the signs have allowed them to show that in a special way.”

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