EconoLodge Staff

Rita Walton, Cody Bingham, and Veronique Janssens stand in the lobby of the Econo Lodge. They said their ballroom is being booked and paid for by people throughout the community, with those dates available to families of graduates at no cost.

CLINTON — Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, high school students from throughout the Gateway area missed out on prom, senior day, and the traditional graduation.

Also, due to social distancing and limits on the number of people who can congregate, many of them could not plan the graduation parties that they would like.

Tie those issues in with the economic impact the pandemic has had on families, and many could have been feeling like they wouldn’t be able to celebrate what should be a joyous occasion.

But that all changed when people across Clinton decided to buy out the ballroom at the Econo Lodge in Clinton to allow graduates to have parties. Rita Walton, bar manager, said it started with one business owner’s generosity, and from there everyone started pitching in.

“I got a phone call from Elis Fazliu from Old Town, and he said ‘Rita, how much is it to book a room out there for a graduation party,’” Walton said. “I said, ‘It’s $150’, and he’s like, ‘I’ll take it.’ And he said, ‘I want to donate it to a family that is struggling because of the coronavirus.’”

Walton said she was surprised by Fazliu’s offer, and then others got on social media and started pitching in. Now they have the ballroom booked for much of the summer on Fridays and Saturdays. If families want to host a graduation party, all they have to do is call the hotel and they will be provided a day that the ballroom is already paid for. Walton said the families are just responsible for their food and decorations. She said that despite the coronavirus halting and disrupting so much, it is bringing out the best in people in the community.

“This virus, as bad as it has been on the economy and everybody’s job, it really got people together here in Clinton to help out each other by donating,” Walton said. “I never thought this would be like this, ever in my life.”

Walton said she has received hundreds of messages from people on how they can help families of graduates celebrate this special occasion. She said she has never seen so many giving people.

Her colleague, Veronique Janssens, agreed with her and said she believes a lot of people are very sympathetic to the class of 2020. With so many things being canceled due to the coronavirus, Janssens said the community is coming together trying to do something special for people who have lost so much. She said the hotel is glad to be able to be a part of this.

“It’s great to see everyone embrace each other,” Janssens said. “If more people want to help out, they can just call the hotel. We are more than willing to get that going for them. We are booking up fast.”

Janssens said they are booking through August, and despite that being months away, she said people still want to celebrate. Additionally, she said, the hotel is going through renovations and will change from the Econo Lodge to the Quality Inn by the middle of next month.