A Facebook group is doing wonders for the morale of this year’s graduating seniors in Bartow County.
With many activities they’d looked forward to all their lives being canceled or threatened by the COVID-19 school closures, the Class of 2020 needed a ray of sunshine to peek through the dark clouds.
And the soon-to-be graduates got just that from the Adopt-a-Senior-Cartersville/Bartow County Edition Facebook group started by Cartersville parent and Kennesaw State University instructor Jenny Petersen.
Seniors or parents/grandparents of seniors can share photos and a short bio that includes their name, high school, interests, plans after graduation and favorites like foods, restaurants and activities with the group.
Then members of the community can scroll through the posts, “adopt” as many as they want and send them all kinds of gifts between now and graduation.
“I know how much the seniors looked forward to all of their activities that have been canceled, from senior nights for all the teams, prom, graduation, time with their friends, etc.,” said Petersen, who taught at Kennesaw Mountain High School in Cobb County years ago. “It is a huge time of transition for these kids, and I know they are heartbroken. Then we have an entire community trying to be safe, stay inside, and I just figured we could all use a little kindness. Something to be happy about, and doing nice things for others is an amazing way to find your own happy.”
Petersen, whose 4-year-old daughter is a preschooler in the Cartersville system, said she got the idea for the group from a friend who adopted a senior in Texas, “and I thought it was a fun concept.”
“When I reached out to some friends with seniors here, I realized there was nothing like it,” she said. “There are many in different places, and we're all doing our own thing. Since I started this one, another friend started one in Ohio, and [Monday], a parent started one in Polk County when she realized how many Rockmart High seniors were trying to join our page.”
The group – which was created April 19 and now has more than 2,200 members — is open to all seniors in the Bartow County and Cartersville City school systems as well as seniors who live in Bartow County but attend other schools.
“I really don't want to turn any kid away, but I did say that they have to live here,” Petersen said, noting the group “absolutely took off.” “Many people want to drop gifts to their porch so the distance matters.”
Once posts are created and submitted, they’re approved and added to the group. Then community members can scroll through the list, pick the ones that catch their attention and adopt them by commenting on their posts.
“Each senior can be adopted a max of three times, but my first priority is that first adoption,” said Petersen, who keeps a “running list of all the seniors added and when they are adopted.” “Some people message me and say that they want someone from a specific school, going to a specific school or a specific interest, and I try to match them.”
The organizer said she’s asked people to adopt a senior that they “wouldn't already celebrate with through family and friends.”
“The idea is to grow the circle, the village of people lifting these seniors up as they move forward,” she said. “I've had businesses, community groups and families adopt seniors.”
Once the “adopters” make their choices, they can send cards, gifts, balloons, “really whatever they felt led to do” for their seniors, Petersen said.
“When they adopt a senior, we encourage them to reach out directly to whoever posted the senior to get likes/dislikes and an address,” she said. “I don't want any personal info on our page.”
As of noon Friday, 438 seniors have been posted on the page, according to Petersen.
“People are really stepping up to adopt them as soon as they are posted,” she said. “The response has been incredible. It is just proof of the amazing community we live in that they are adopted and celebrated so quickly.”
Woodland High senior Madison Ray was adopted by two WHS marching band moms, Milena Herring and Debi Borgelt, that she got to see at football games, competitions and practices.
“It fills my heart with joy,” the 18-year-old said. “I would have never expected to have been recognized in this way, and I am just very grateful for these ladies that went out of their way to show me kindness.”
Ray, who will be attending KSU in the fall to major in elementary education, said she received gift cards to her favorite places, school supplies, her favorite snack foods and a handwritten card “shortly after posting in the Facebook group” on April 26.
“I think it is a very special and unique way to recognize seniors and make them feel special,” she said. “I have many friends that have been adopted. Almost every senior I know has been posted in the Facebook group either by their parents or by themselves. As seniors, we are just incredibly thankful to have a community looking after us like this.”
The Euharlee resident – who was a marching band section leader, secretary of her class all four years, lead editor of the yearbook and an Advanced Placement, Honors and dual-enrollment student at Woodland — said her love for her school “is strong, and I am sad to have seen it cut short.”
“Having my senior year cut short by COVID-19 was genuinely unexpected,” she said. “When I first learned that school was canceled for the rest of the year, it broke my heart. I was very upset about it for many days. However, as the pandemic began to reach its peak, it became obvious to me that my senior year was not as important as the lives being lost and tragedy caused by this terrible illness.”
Cartersville High alumna Janet Underwood adopted CHS senior Cole Crump because she knows his mom, Leah, and because she, her husband and her two children also graduated from CHS in 1977, 1974, 2002 and 2004, respectively.
“[We] have great memories there,” she said. “My classmates are still very close after 40-plus years. I feel sad that this class won’t be able to share as much.”
Underwood said she’s given Crump an Auburn shirt, “although I’m a die-hard Bulldawg,” and some other “special treats.”
“I plan on mailing him a few more surprises leading up to graduation night,” she said. “These seniors will always remember this time, and hopefully, we can make it better by remembering them with these gifts.”
She added she’d “love to see our community really rally around them this summer when we can by a parade or something.”
Petersen said she and co-administrator Branden Stanberry, who has “dedicated hours upon hours of her time to make sure these kids are sponsored, and I am so thankful for her help,” will stop monitoring and facilitating matches no later than May 15.
“We add 10 to 15 seniors a day so I want to allow time for people to really learn about it,” she said.
The group also has had two local businesses reach out to the students, Petersen said.
Take Time to Travel, her mom's company, is sending a travel gift certificate to every senior “for use when we can all travel again,” and a local restaurant “asked for a list of every senior who mentioned their restaurant in their post, and they are going to send a gift certificate and card to those seniors,” she said.
“But they want to remain a surprise,” she said. “It is pretty cool for businesses to get involved like that.”
Petersen said she also added a "seniors adopting seniors" component to the process and “asked the seniors and their families to send cards to senior citizens in assisted-living facilities or extended-care facilities to brighten their day.”
“I've asked them to send the cards, pictures, etc. to my mom's office, and I will get them to the facilities,” she said. “These senior citizens are confined and isolated, and it gives the student seniors a way to give back, too.”
To add or adopt a senior, visit https://www.facebook.com/groups/2533119117004232/.