It was the biggest crowd downtown Wayne has seen in years. The line of eager fans waiting for the Midwest premiere of Infiltrators stretched from the State Wayne Theater to Elizabeth Street. Upwards of 1000 people patiently waited to get into the theater and help support the Champions of Wayne program. Over $40,000 was raised from the weekend activities.
While they were waiting, Infiltrator stars Rocco Nugent and Hallee Hirsh greeted moviegoers as they made their way down the line shaking hands and posing for photos. Wayne Memorial alum Greg Jbara, who also appears in Infiltrators, stood outside the theatre and greeted every guest.
“It was a great day for Wayne Westland Schools, Wayne Memorial, the Champions of Wayne, the City of Wayne, and especially the students of Wayne Memorial,” said Greg Baracy, superintendent, Wayne-Westland Community Schools. “The over whelming support of the community and Alumni was heartfelt and inspiring. We are grateful to all that supported this wonderful event.”
The Infiltrators premiere brought a touch of Hollywood to Wayne. There was a VIP party for sponsors and distinguished guests. As fans lined the street the stars- Greg Jbara, Hallee Hirsh, Rocco Nugent, Robert Picardo were joined on the red carpet by film producer and WMHS alum Sally Helppie and screenwriter Michael Stokes.
The event was a fundraiser for the Champions of Wayne program at Wayne Memorial High School. The Champions program is financially supported by Helppie’s brother, Richard Helppie, also a WMHS alum.
“This demonstrates that the Wayne community will get behind students. It shows a tremendous amount of heart,” Helppie said. “When I talk about the community I think there are three aspects. One is the people who live in the greater Wayne-Westland area. Two is the phenomenal alumni support we got. The outpouring from the alums wanting to give back was heartwarming and three is the broader community of people who just care about kids and care about kids’ futures.”
Helppie said with a program that can produce results like the Champions program, these communities can step up and support it. He hopes this event was the catalyst to launch the program to the next level.
“Saturday night’s event was, without question, the best-case scenario for us. Even the weather was perfect. During the event, I was searching for something to worry about or a problem to solve, and I honestly couldn’t find anything. I was forced to relax and enjoy myself,” said Sean Galvin, Champions of Wayne executive director. “A huge thank you goes out to all who contributed and all who attended. Now I’ll start working on our next endeavor. “
Mayor Al Haidous presented keys to the city to Richard and Sally Helppie, Greg Jbara and Bill Gray, retired WMHS psychologist who started the Champions program in 2008.
“Getting the key to the city was very touching,” said Richard Helppie.
Champions students Jeremiah Palmer, Holland Boertje, Leo Winbush, Davontae Cooper and Jordan Buford talked to the sell out crowd prior to the movie screening. They shared their stories of academic and personal success and how they were appreciative of their mentors and the opportunities provided to them by the Champions program.
Students are paired with a mentor, usually a WMHS staff member, and they come up with academic goals for the semester. If the student meets their goals they are awarded with a $200 check at an award ceremony.
Helppie said the next level of the program will be to increase the capacity and serve all of the kids at Wayne Memorial who can benefit from the Champions program. He wants to be able to provide support to link their learning to applicable vocational skills and higher education.
He hopes the success of the Infiltrators movie premiere will generate more community members and alumni to become a part of the Champions of Wayne program.
“This program with the right support can do so much more for so many. We can’t do this without broad support and getting owned by the community,” he said.
Helppie and his wife, Leslie, and Jeff and Lisa Styers plan to continue to give their time talents and support to Champions of Wayne. After visiting Wayne Memorial and seeing the program Greg Jbara said he was all in too.
Helppie said this event could not have been possible without the dedication and support from so many.
He is grateful for the outpouring of support from the city fathers, Wayne County commissioners, the actors from out of town who had no prior relationship with Wayne were totally blown away. People on the committee- Kim Alexander, Steph-anie Armes, Joelyn Stier, Phoenix Theaters and all of the others.
“The support that came from so many places, the alum, police department- police chief and deputy chief. Everybody wanted this to go well and everybody wants to support the kids”