By Michelle Talsma Everson

This school year posed many unique challenges because of closures and social restrictions due to COVID-19. Some of the hardships were felt by the high school senior class of 2020 who missed out on most of the senior year memory making, including prom, traditional graduation ceremonies, and other end-of-the year milestones. But, thanks to the power of social media, more than 1,030 locals “adopted” 261 Deer Valley Unified School District (DVUSD) seniors, providing them with recognition during their untraditional senior year.

This impressive show of community togetherness came about because of a Facebook group called “DVUSD Adopt a High School Senior” started and managed by local residents Ashley Omelianowich, Dawn Caccavale, and Amy Margary.

The idea got started when Amy Margary posted on Facebook an article about “adopting” high school seniors and asked if anyone would like to do something locally. Ashley Omelianowich, a Facebook friend, suggested the idea of a group for DVUSD seniors and the initiative took off.

“I had been feeling deeply for seniors and the loss they were experiencing because of the pandemic and this was the perfect outlet to do something kind for our community,” Omelianowich says. “I created the group, added Amy as an admin, and that is how it all started. I started to scour other Facebook groups that were even slightly related to any of the local high schools and the surrounding communities. I posted in every group I could find, even requesting to join the high school football and marching band groups so I could promote the page. I really wanted to get parents to post their seniors in the group so we could start lifting them up and supporting them as a community.”

“I would also private message all of the admins of the pages I was finding asking them to promote it,” she continues. “After doing all of that, inviting anyone I knew that lived in the community to the group, we finally had our first senior post. I immediately commented that I wanted to adopt, as did Amy. We were just so excited to have a senior to love on. One of the first seniors posted happened to be Dawn’s daughter, and when we connected over the details on how I could adopt her daughter, Dawn graciously offered to help me manage the page. I added her as an admin and we have worked together to manage it ever since.”

Adopting a senior essentially meant that the adopter connected with the senior’s parents or caregivers and sent the students surprises. Some received treats, gift cards, and more. It wasn’t about the monetary value, but about the seniors feeling recognized. Once seniors received their surprises, photos of the thankful students were often shared in the group.

“Quarantine is a lonely feeling, something these seniors have never experienced,” shares Dawn Caccavale. “Things were moving along and then COVID-19 hit and it all changed. But this generation, the class of 2020, is strong, brave, creative, and they will go on to do great things. But we wanted to celebrate them and let them know they have not been forgotten.”

“For my daughter, she’s struggled all her schools years and was finally coming out of her shell and meeting friends and really enjoying senior year, so for her being ‘adopted’ meant the world to her,” she continues. “That a stranger would go out of their way, spend their money and make her feel special, what a wonderful feeling.”
As the group grew, not only did individuals adopt seniors, but local businesses donated their services as well.

“They [the seniors] deserve to be brought into adulthood with as much love and compassion as our community can show; they are our future,” she says. “What better way to show them what humanity can be than to find special ways to support them in this difficult time and to make them feel supported? What a unique experience we get as a community to help guide them through these difficult waters and lift them up with love?”

“The adopt a senior group has been, in a word, inspiring,” says Andrea Fisher, a mom of two DVUSD seniors. “Before our eyes the community has come together and literally wrapped their arms around the class of 2020. It has helped my seniors focus on celebrating their accomplishments and what lies ahead, not on what they are missing out on. I am truly thankful for the show of support to the kids to make this year special.”