ESJ Alumni Reunion Tailgate returns after 2-year hiatus

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 28, 2022

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RESERVE — East St. John graduates at least 300 seniors a year, creating a large network of alumni who have the collective power to make a difference. All it takes is a village mindset, according to Demetria Robinson Carter of the ESJ Alumni Association.

“It takes a village to raise a child. For most of the older classes, even if your parents worked, you still had the neighborhood to watch out for you,” Carter said. “You had an aunt or uncle or someone that was home for you. Most kids today have both parents working and are coming home to an empty house. We’re trying to be that village to be there for them.”

The ESJ Alumni Association is resuming its annual Alumni Reunion Tailgate for the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2022 tailgate will draw at least 1,000 alumni  together from near and far next Friday, October 7.

The Alumni Reunion Tailgate is a party with a purpose that raises thousands of dollars to fund scholarships for graduating seniors at East St. John.

“My mom was a single parent raising three kids, and I know how difficult it was to go to college. Now my son’s one year in tuition is the cost it was for me for four years, living on campus,” Carter said. “Because of the escalating cost of higher education, we want to help students continue to soar higher and higher.”

The first reunion tailgate, held in 2017, raised roughly $21,000 and showed the potential for what East St. John alumni can accomplish together. Proceeds increased to just under $30,000 in 2018 and skyrocketed to more than $45,300 in 2019.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 limitations on large gatherings paused the annual event in 2020, and Hurricane Ida extended the hiatus when St. John the Baptist Parish was devastated in 2021.

Carter said the goal this year is two-fold — develop a new normal in a post-COVID world and resume programs at the school, not limited to scholarships for seniors.

The Alumni Association recently participated in a college and career fair hosted by the Kiwanis Club of Tri Parishes and Junior Achievement. Moving forward, the alumni hope to implement a big brother/big sister style mentorship program at East St. John. Career training and job shadowing are other ways the alumni hope to reach students in all grade levels.

This season, alumni have also created goodie bags for the football team and posted signs in the locker room to give the young men a sense of pride in their school community.

Carter was inspired by a St. Charles Catholic tradition of parents coming in on Thursdays to decorate the locker room and leave little gifts and trinkets for the team in advance of Friday night games.

“We can accomplish that at the same level. We are trying to give them some motivation, reminding them we are a team and we are one,” Carter said. “We are just trying to be that village, that motivation, that cheerleader that some of them don’t have at home.”

ESJ Alumni Association member Melanie Burl said proceeds from the alumni tailgate funded at least 10 scholarships per year prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Former students as well as parents have reached out to tell the alumni what a difference the scholarships have made in their lives.

Each year, the Alumni Committee works with representatives from each class who decide how they are going to celebrate at their tent. A spirit stick and banner are given to the most enthusiastic class.

“We are excited to be able to get back to being of service. Everybody who comes is excited to be a part of that,” Burl said. “We have alumni from all over the United States who make plans to come. It results in so many good things besides the fundraising. It’s a collaboration of classmates and families; we have generations of families that come through East St. John, and we often find the mom, the grandmother and maybe even the great-grandmother all celebrating together.”

Carter and Robinson both see potential for East St. John to be rise to the ranks of schools in neighboring parishes. They want students to see that an active alumni community is ready and willing to hold elected school board members’ feet to the fire to make decisions that will make St. John Parish Public Schools the best in the state.

“We do it because we want the best for East St. John, and we look forward to offering more support and collaboration. As alumni, we know East St. John has the potential to be great because we know the school we graduated from,” Burl said.