PATERSON, NJ - While COVID-19 kept them from missing the traditional graduation ceremonies that typically mark the completion of schooling at all levels, local non-profit Paterson Cares wanted to let city school children know their academic accomplishments were something to be proud of.

On Saturday dozens gathered at Barbour Park to celebrate these students, offering a barbecue, music, free graduation photos, and, as always, enthusiasm for their futures.

“They had a year unlike anything any of us have ever experienced,” Gee Grier, one of the organizers said. “We wanted to let them know that their work isn’t being taken for granted.” Grier, and his sister Nancy, both quick to share credit for the hard work being done by the group they founded, were later recognized by American Lodge 333 in the form of donations to their efforts totaling $900.

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“You’ve done so much work in such a short amount of time,” John Reaves, Exalted Ruler of the Elks Lodge said. “We’ve noticed, and you’re going to see a lot more of us.

Mayor Andre Sayegh, City Council Vice President Lilisa Mimms and 4th Ward Councilwoman were also on hand to celebrate the graduates, and spirit of community, with Mimms saying that “we want the children to know that we (adults) are not sitting on the sidelines and want to see them succeed.

Cotton took a moment to note again the symbolism of holding the event in Barbour Park, once more known for the frequent visits by drug users than local families. “This park was built on partnerships,” Cotton said. “Partnerships make us all bigger, they make Paterson a better place.

Among the graduates on hand was Derron Chaplin who completed pre-kindergarten at Paterson Daycare 100 and Tiona Harris, a 2020 graduate of William Paterson University with a double major in Psychology and English Writing.

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