Community ‘adopts’ students in Riverhead’s senior class to show support

“We know your senior year got a little crazy. Here is a treat to make it a bit sweeter…We are cheering for you!”

The handwritten note, accompanied by a bag of candy, was left at the doorstep of Riverhead senior Lily Kutner and several other seniors in her neighborhood this week in the latest show of appreciation for the Class of 2020.

“It’s very sweet,” Lily said Thursday. “The community supporting us definitely makes us feel a little better.”

With the school year cut short and graduation plans altered amid concerns over the coronavirus pandemic, ‘Adopt-a-Senior’ groups on Facebook are popping up in communities across the country to lift the spirits of disappointed students.

Parents or family members who join the group post a photo of their graduate and write about their accomplishments and interests. Then, anyone wishing to ‘adopt’ the student can get in touch to surprise them with a gift.

Since the page was created by Aquebogue parent Jennifer Mato last Sunday, it has grown to over 770 members. She said she got the idea from a friend with kids in a nearby district.

“It just went crazy,” she said. “Everybody’s been so super generous.”

The surprises have ranged from balloons, flowers and snacks to care packages and gift cards to help them prepare for college.

“You don’t have to go out and spend $50 on a kid — not everybody has that,” Ms. Mato said. “A little note of encouragement goes a long way.”

Senior Jennifer Costello said that while nothing can replace all her class is missing out on, she’ll always remember the small gestures of kindness that have arrived in the form of gift baskets and balloons.

“The cards I’ve gotten have meant the most to me,” she said. “It’s really thoughtful to take time out to write out how they feel.”

Jennifer and her mom, Debra, are returning the love by adopting other seniors, including classmates she may not be close with. “Everyone deserves a chance to be recognized,” she said. “I don’t want it to turn into a popularity contest.”

Riverhead alumni, teachers, business owners and other community members have all jumped on board to show support. 

“It just touches my heart,” said Dawn Kelly, who said several of her daughter Madison’s former teachers have reached out.

Ms. Kelly made several stops Thursday afternoon, surprising several seniors with iced coffees, their favorite candy, a string of fairy lights for their dorm rooms and a note. 

Lucharitos owner Marc LaMaina pledged to treat every senior to lunch, working with the parent-led group to coordinate getting $20 gift cards to each senior, potentially as they pick up their cap and gown they were fitted for weeks before the outbreak began. “These kids are missing the funnest time in their HS career,” Mr. LaMaina wrote in the Facebook group. “Last 4 months of senior year… if I remember correctly those were the best. Anything we can do to bring some smiles we will do.”

While the district’s planned ceremony for June 26 has moved to a virtual ceremony, district officials said they are working on alternative plans for some kind of in-person celebration later this summer.

Lily is one of several seniors working with district administrators on those plans.

“We keep bringing up the idea of having a gathering later on, just so we can all get together again,” she said.

She’s just hoping her classmates have a chance to say goodbye.

Danielle Robinson of Riverhead said she’s heartbroken to be missing out on the milestone for her son Tyreek Parker.

“This was a big year for us,” she said, describing a set of struggles he’s faced that nearly led him to drop out as a sophomore. Joining the football and track teams, she said, inspired him to push on.

She said the adopt-a-senior project has reminded Tyreek he hasn’t been forgotten.

“Even though we’ve got our heads down, the community wants to pick us up and show us not to give up,” he said Thursday.

In the meantime, a drive-through celebration is planned for next Friday, May 22 at 6:30 p.m. at the high school.

Together with their families, seniors are urged to decorate their cars and drive through the high school parking lot, where teachers and first responders will line the route to celebrate their accomplishments.

“This event promises to be loud, fun and filled with positive energy for our graduating class. We look forward to seeing our seniors and their families on that day,” Riverhead superintendent Aurelia Henriquez said in a robocall to families last week.

Anyone attending the event must adhere to social distancing guidelines and wear a face mask, officials said.

Ms. Kelly said she hopes word will spread to include students whose parents may not be on Facebook. “It’s not a perfect system—we don’t have a list from the school or anything,” she said, due to privacy laws.

For more information or to participate in the adopt a senior project, visit Adopt a Riverhead Blue Wave 2020 on Facebook.