DDuring the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, you may have seen the hundreds of newly created social media pages that start with “Adopt a Senior from (insert city here)” or “Adopt a Senior from (name your high school here)”. The goal of these social media pages were to address what seniors were missing out on during that final year of high school. You would be able to read about the “needs” of these graduating seniors, the “wants” and the “like to haves”. The way the process worked is you would join one of the Facebook pages, find a local graduating senior to virtually “adopt” during this pandemic, receive their wish list, buy them their graduation gifts and then deliver the basket full of gifts, gift cards, wish list items and necessities for the grad. Most Facebook pages would then post individual photos of the gift delivery with a kind stranger who took the time to buy these incredible graduation gifts posing with the virtually adopted senior from the Class of 2020.
Behind all the great photos of the many of smiling seniors I personally knew since I graduated from Boerne High School just last year, I would also read the stories of what these students have missed due to the pandemic, how the Class of 2020 was going to deal with the pandemic, and the anxieties so many were experiencing.
Then the moment came…it was obvious to me there was a group of students that would be forgotten and could not be virtually “adopted”. They were the 507 Class of 2020 Texas seniors who also graduated from high school that were from foster care. This group of students were never adopted by a forever family and they had aged out or were aging out very soon at age of 18 of the Texas foster care system. They did not have anyone to celebrate their graduation accomplishment. Another tragedy is no adult or caregiver is allowed to post on social media these foster youth full names, their senior photos (if they even have one), the “likes”, “dislikes”, the “dreams” or aspirations because of anonymity and privacy while within the Texas foster care system. They were a forgotten set of students. The irony is for every one these students – all they ever wanted is to be wanted by a family, to belong and to be adopted. So my goal was to have them “virtually adopted” by anyone who joined the Facebook page and provide each one gifts to celebrate their graduation accomplishments.
These seniors who have graduated from high school and were within foster care have truly overcome the odds. Only a dismal 45% of the youth in foster care even graduate from high school or get their GED. Despite a system that seems to be designed to keep some foster youth at their lowest, this resilient group includes students who are poets, musicians, mothers, pageant winners, students that excel in STEM and creative artists whose work is unbelievable. I have met so many of them. They are the most unbreakable spirits who, despite being unable to access “love” in the foster care system, they continue to love with overwhelming abundance, even for those who loved them too little which inevitably landed them in the foster care system.
Taking quick action in response to this group being overlooked again was not an easy feat and that was okay with me. It had to be done. I knew we could not just focus on our region of Texas but the entire state of graduating foster seniors that need to be celebrated as well for their accomplishments. I reached out to Dainelle Scott who was the administrator of our local “Adopt A Senior from the Boerne Area” to share the “Adopt a 2020 Senior from Foster Care” page. Dainelle, who operates Rise Property Group, is also a foster/adopt mother and knew very well how this group of youth is often overlooked. Dainelle shared the Facebook page and then it started taking off. I also joined forces with a former foster youth, 18 year old Allie Graves, who also graduated this year from high school in East Texas. She is currently the Miss Texas Outstanding Teen. With a huge social media push, stories across Texas on many news outlets, I was very hopeful as a team, we could achieve our goal.
During the first 3 weeks of May, hundreds of people joined and donated thousands of dollars through the “Adopt a 2020 Senior from Foster Care” Facebook Page. Providing the page followers with daily goal updates on the 507 seniors, we continued to make incredible progress. In fact, on one day within 10 hours, we received over $12,000 of donations. With these generous donations from across the state of Texas, we were able to provide every single Class of 2020 foster senior a gift a $100 gift card and a Day 1 Backpack. We also had a special group of graduating seniors who were young mothers living in a foster care shelter. We had people donate more money to ensure each mother received a Mint: Sweet Little Things nap roll, diaper bag and Matilda Jane pajama set for their small children. We had Amazon and Target gift cards that were also donated to give many graduating seniors that were facing imminent homelessness situations.
If you did not know, many of these foster students have never been celebrated, have had their own birthday party growing up. They have lived in multiple homes or foster care shelters with their belongings in a trash bag as luggage. The majority have only had hand-me-down clothing and have never worn any new clothing, socks, shoes, toiletries of their own. I was confident this small gift of a gift card and a backpack would be a positive and huge difference in many of their lives.
As with any project, there are many important players. The non-profit Day 1 Backpacks are made by local bag supplier, Flying Circle in Boerne, Texas. Five hundred and fifty highest quality backpacks are already on their way to every region throughout Texas. I have to say, these backpacks are the best backpack anyone could ever own. I even own one myself. To add to the overwhelming support of this campaign, all of the gift cards 3% per card transaction fees were waived by United Texas Credit Union. That’s a lot of money when you are dealing with over $50,000 of gift cards. To put a final bow on the effort, all 500 plus personalized graduation cards that contained the gift cards were also donated. By end of July, each 2020 senior will have received these gift cards from their region Department of Family and Protective Services coordinator. They will have virtual parades, graduating ceremonies and drive-by celebrations during COVID-19 state restrictions.
We may never know their names, their unbelievable journeys or their heartbreaks, but we did not want this group of students, once again, to be lost in a system and forgotten. I strongly believe we need to consider remembering our foster youth as well during this pandemic and provide them support they are worthy of receiving. Too many of them are on their own and are required to navigate the adult world without support. These teens have many needs that continue to be overlooked. The community and statewide generosity does let them know that someone cared. This may be the ONLY gift they receive for graduating from high school. Not everything in life comes easy, and in the face of adversity, these seniors have all risen to the occasion, displayed their resilience and determination during this pandemic. “Caps off” to Class of 2020 Foster Seniors.