It can be costly when a child graduates. There are graduation expenses, special clothes for the big event and related social activities such as a prom or junior dance. And keeping up with those costs can be daunting for many parents, especially those without sufficient financial means — even in an affluent community.

Enter the town’s Department of Human Services, which for the past 12 years has organized a project called “Ceremonies and Celebration.”

That program, funded by donations from the community, helps families defray the costs of clothing and other items associated with the graduations of their children in middle or high schools.

“The reason this started, was when a school nurse at Coleytown Middle School contacted us 12 years ago to tell us that three eighth-grade boys told her they weren’t going to their graduation,” said Patty Haberstroh, the department’s family program coordinator.

She said the boys told the nurse that their families just could not afford to buy them new slacks, blazers, ties and shoes for that ceremony.

“The nurse said this just can’t happen,” said Haberstroh, and in response, the Ceremonies and Celebrations program was launched.

“Last year, thanks to the generosity of the Westport community and the schools’ PTAs, 36 Westport students were able to purchase new, special-event clothing for their graduations from middle and high school,” said Barbara Butler, the town’s human services director.

This year, that number is 40, said Haberstroh, who administers the program.

Besides being able to purchase clothes for graduation, donations to the program can be used to buy prom wear or for a celebratory dinner, something some families just can’t afford to do, Haberstroh added.

She said the only request is that beneficiary families send receipts for the expenses to her.

“While new clothing may seem frivolous to some, to many of our students it represents a special occasion marking a new beginning and a job well done,” Butler added. ”Dressing kids for special events is a gift for a special time in a young person’s life.” She said helping these children out can help “make dreams come true.”

Butler said her department over the years has received “numerous heart-felt notes of thanks and the photographs of the proud young people as they walked across the stage or stood with their relatives on this special day.”

She said “the public can help fill the need for this year’s graduating students and lift a bit of the expense burden from their families by making a tax-deductible donation” to the program.

Although graduations are fast approaching, donations are still being accepted, Haberstroh said.

In fact, she said, those looking for a year-end gift for a special school staff member, can make a donation in that person’s name to the Ceremonies and Celebration fund. Donors are asked to note that person’s name and the donor or student names and a formal letter of acknowledgment will be sent to that person, she added.

“As the mother of four Staples grads, this is a great gift for a teacher or guidance counselor or other staff member,” she said.

Checks should be made payable to “DHS Family Programs” (memo line: Ceremonies) and will be accepted through June.

If preferred, gift cards of any amount (American Express, Visa, Master Card, Trumbull Mall/Westfield Shopping Center) can also be donated, Butler said.

Also, residents aware of individuals who could benefit from the program should contact Haberstroh at hsyouth@westportct.gov or 203-341-1069.

Social work staff will assure that families in need meet financial and program criteria, as well as get the help they need, she noted.

Donations should be mailed or delivered to the Department of Human Services, Town Hall, Room 200, 110 Myrtle Ave., Westport, CT 06880 from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily.