Weehawken High School recently received a $1,000 boost for this year’s Project Graduation, courtesy of the Rebeka Verea Foundation, a non-profit organization based in West New York.
Project Graduation is an annual school-sponsored party that keeps high school students from attending private parties after graduation at which they might drink and drive. Instead, they are kept in one place that is alcohol free.
The dangers of young people driving without enough experience on the road, even if they have not been drinking, can be devastating – as the Verea Foundation knows well.
Lourdes Verea and her husband Dr. Jorge Verea founded the organization five years ago after their daughter Rebeka, who had just graduated from high school in Bergen County, was a passenger in a car that ended up in a fatal crash in North Bergen.
Now, they hold events to make sure the same thing doesn’t happen to other kids.
“It was a tough day, but it was nice. We saw a lot of beautiful things happen.” – Dr. Jorge Verea
“The money was a gift in thanks for the great support from Mayor Richard Turner and Councilwoman Rosemary Lavagnino,” said Lourdes Verea.
On June 20, near the site of the accident on West Side Avenue in North Bergen, Rebeka’s friends were joined at a memorial by dozens of students who never even met Rebeka to remember her life. They were invited because they were involved in the Rebeka Verea Foundation through their schools.
“It was a tough day,” said Jorge Verea. “But it was nice. We saw a lot of beautiful things happen.”
Lourdes Verea said that she intends to spend the next five years continuing to spread the message that kids should believe in themselves and know their life is beautiful.
Rebeka Verea’s life comes to mind for many each year around graduation time as another new class of graduates head to festivities throughout the area.
On June 20, 2005, just hours after celebrating her own high school graduation from Cliffside Park High School, Verea was riding in the passenger seat of a Mercedes Benz with her friend Alexis Torres, 19, of North Bergen at the wheel.
The two were returning from a graduation party – and possibly exceeding the speed limit, according to police – when at 74th Street and West Side Avenue, the car collided with a tractor-trailer. The accident severed the car’s roof.
Torres, who was not wearing his seat belt, was flung from the car and treated for an assortment of injuries. Verea, who was wearing her seat belt, was killed instantly.
Torres was ultimately acquitted of all charges against him. This past January, his attempt to sue several North Bergen officials for false imprisonment and malicious prosecution was dismissed.
Awareness grows through a myriad of events
The Vereas started the Rebeka Verea Foundation, headquartered in West New York, the year that their daughter died.
Since then, the foundation has spread quickly to other communities, including a chapter at Memorial High School and one at a university in Guadalajara, Mexico.
Their annual gala, held on March 20, raised $35,000 for the foundation – which was then doubled by United Way. Mrs. Verea said every penny is directly cycled back into educational programs for the youth or donated to schools to help support their Project Graduation programs.
On April 29, over 600 kids from various schools attended this year’s safe driving symposium for teens sponsored by the foundation at the Palisadium in Cliffside Park.
Speakers on hand included police officers who spoke about safe driving practices and doctors who detailed what happens to the body during an accident.
Although Weehawken High School has not yet participated in the annual forum, the Vereas said that the school may join the other participating high schools next year.
Mrs. Verea hopes that because of the small size of Weehawken High School, their message could spread quickly and reach younger students early on.
On May 16, the foundation held the first of what will be an annual fashion show to raise a little bit of money, but more importantly, to continue raising awareness.
Verea said the event, held on Mothers’ Day and attended by approximately 200 people, was meant to be “an incentive to each mother.”
And on May 28, the NJN Hispanic Youth Showcase 2010 and subsequent television broadcast were dedicated with the theme “Say Yes to Life” to honor the Rebeka Verea Foundation and other organizations for their efforts to save teen lives on the road.
For more information, please visit www.rebekavereafoundation.org or call (201) 758-9600.
Lana Rose Diaz can be reached at email@example.com.