There was nothing remarkable about the end of the school day on Wednesday, March 11, in Union County.
North Carolina had identified its first COVID-19 case a week earlier. Governor Cooper had declared a state of emergency on March 10 as reported cases in NC rose to seven. But little had changed about the day-to-day life of students in Union County. Teachers and students left school on Wednesday expecting to see one another the following morning for another day of school.
But Thursday, March 12, was not a normal day. Early in the morning as students began arriving at school, news broke that Union County was under a boil water advisory due to the presence of E.Coli in a routine water test. With the advisory affecting the majority of Union County’s school buildings, schools were closed for Thursday and Friday.
Meanwhile, conditions in Charlotte and surrounding areas continued to shift rapidly. On March 12, Mecklenburg County reported its first two confirmed cases of COVID-19, and CMS made the decision to suspend competitions, performances, and before and after school events effective the following day.
On Saturday, March 14, Governor Cooper ordered all North Carolina public K-12 schools to close for at least two weeks. Less than ten days later, Cooper extended the order to May 15. On April 24, with 1400 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state, Cooper announced that K-12 public schools statewide would remain closed through the spring semester.
To those high school seniors who left school on March 11 thinking the twelfth would be a normal day, it was a devastating blow. Saying good-bye to friends and teachers. Performing in one last play or concert. Taking the field for one last home game. Honors and Awards ceremonies. Prom. Graduation. All the milestones that students look forward to as they celebrate the culmination of thirteen years of achievements won’t happen for the Class of 2020.
“With the COVID-19 pandemic, everything has changed,” states Union County Public Schools’ website. “Our hearts are with the Class of 2020, as their senior year was abruptly interrupted and plans for many significant activities have been cancelled.”
“The day Governor Cooper came out and said school is done for the rest of the year, I started thinking: What do we do? How do we honor them?” says Union County parent Stephanie Hargus.
Inspired by a program she had heard of in Texas, Hargus started the Facebook Group “Adopt a Senior – Union County.” The idea is simple. Parents or guardians of Union County high school seniors visit the page and post photos and details about their senior, like their accomplishments in high school and their plans for the future. They also fill out a short form listing their “favorite things.” Hargus or another moderator then tags the senior as available for adoption. Anyone can “adopt” the senior and send him or her a small care package or graduation gift. Once two people adopt any given senior, a moderator “closes” the adoption.
Hargus started the Facebook group thinking she might connect a few people. In its first 24 hours online, 1000 people joined. Within 48 hours, membership was up to 2000. The group grew so quickly that Hargus had to recruit extra hands! With the help of her friend Tiffany Larsen and their own junior daughters, the group has grown to over 3000 members and has adopted out 500 Union County seniors.
The group is open to all high school seniors who live in or attend school in Union County, including graduating seniors who are homeschooled. Participation is completely voluntary, and Hargus is clear that the group is not organized or backed by anyone associated with Union County Public Schools.
“We’re just a couple of moms who wanted to recognize some really great kids,” says Hargus, who sees her job as simply facilitating these connections (adopters communicate directly with parents/guardians regarding delivering gifts). “We’re here to allow someone in the community to make your day brighter with a little bit of love.”
Part of the beauty of the group is these connections it forms between these diverse graduating seniors and members of the community who see a small piece of themselves or their own son or daughter in their descriptions. “We’re in a time right now where everyone wants to help,” says Hargus. “There’s something that hits everybody.”
Here is a look at just a few of the 500-and-rising seniors Hargus and Larsen have been able to “adopt” out to members of the community.
Piedmont High School 2020 Senior Kathryn Emery is the youngest of one brother and four sisters. “She is the clown of the family and most of her friends say the same thing!” says mom Robin Emery, who submitted Kathryn for adoption. “She will keep you laughing! She loves her family and her nieces and nephews! She loves to shop, go to mountains, beach and lake. One thing I’m super proud of is that she is REAL! What you see is what you get!! No pretending or being fake from her!” A cheerleader since the age of three, one of mom’s favorite memories of Kathryn is her going to all her sisters’ games dressed in her cheer outfit along with her babydoll that also had on a cheer uniform. Kathryn is attending Stanley Community College in the fall to pursue a career in cosmetology.
Tyler Rehberg is a senior at Piedmont High School who has pushed through some serious barriers in his young life. “Tyler was born deaf,” says mom Keistler, “but being deaf does not hold this boy back! He is very outgoing. With great support of the teachers, his faithful sign language interpreters, and the staff at Piedmont HS, he is very excited to be graduating from the DHH/OCS program. He has recently started working at the McKee Road Publix.” Tyler’s Patriots’ paraphernalia was a big draw for potential adoptees!
Union Academy Senior Felicity Booth is attending ECU in the fall to study Neonatal Nursing. She swims and runs track, was a JV cheerleader and in several of the school plays. She volunteers at the Novant Hospital in Matthews, and works at Chick-fil-A. “She is friendly, outgoing, hardworking, and caring,” says mom Nya Booth. “We are extremely proud of the woman she has become!” In addition to willing adoptees, Felicity received much encouragement from current ECU students and parents of ECU students!
Joseph Griffin is a hardworking and caring young man who will be joining the United States Marine Corp after graduation. “Joseph has made us so proud over the years,” says mom Wendy Wolfe Griffin. “He works hard to achieve his goals. He is a kind and caring young man, always willing to help out. He is very protective of those he loves. He has a way of making people laugh. He enjoys his time spent at the beach with family. He loves his family, friends and country with all of his heart. We are beyond proud of the choices he has made for his life.” Joseph was adopted by a fellow “Marine mom” and a couple who remembers watching him play football from the stands.
Hargus plans to keep the group open through mid-June, when graduation was scheduled to take place for Union County’s Class of 2020. If you’d like to adopt a senior or submit your own senior for adoption, search for “Adopt a Senior – Union County” on Facebook. Please note that only parents or guardians may submit seniors due to privacy issues surrounding delivering gifts.