With high school graduations canceled due to COVID-19, local seniors are missing out on the usual celebrations. Denise Route of Wellsboro created the Adopt A Senior Tioga PA Facebook site to soften that blow and celebrate the graduates on a very personal level.

“I was heartbroken for the rites of passage that they were missing due to this unprecedented time,” said Route. “I hope this allows the entire community to express how much we care about them so they won’t feel alone or forgotten.”

Through the site, adults can connect with a graduating senior and celebrate them with gifts and gestures of encouragement. Gifts range from baked goods to clothing to gift cards and cash.

“We now have over 1,600 members and we hope to attract each and every senior that lives within Tioga County to our site,” said Route. Route has adopted Sabrina Messineo of Wellsboro.

Adopters express sympathy for seniors who cannot walk the graduation stage. Lisa A. Bates of Mainesburg adopted Skylar Merrick of Mansfield.

“I know how exciting it was to walk that final step of high school and show everyone you did it,” Bates said. “To have that opportunity stripped away is quite devastating.”

Sharon King of Tioga adopted Jay Coolidge of Morris. King noted, “I am a mother and grandma, and wanted to give inspiration and hope that through these rough times that we all care for them.”

The Adopt a Senior page has been forging friendships between students and adults who were previously strangers.

Susan Berguson, Blossburg, said, ”My senior, Jessikah Havins, is from Knoxville. I chose this senior as I didn’t know her and wanted to show that strangers can become friends, and that good people still exist.”

Dee Hackett of Lawrenceville said, “My senior is Jaime from Mansfield. I’ve never met her, but I know how it feels to not walk to get that diploma. My senior year I was in the hospital and missed out.”

Kathryn “China” Hayzer of Waldwick, N.J. used a virtual connection when adopting Elizabeth Shaw of Lawrenceville.

“Elizabeth and I met online in 2018, following the same musician. She represents all seniors whose hard work and perseverance deserves closure, recognition, and celebration,” Hayzer said.

Other adopters knew their students well before the Adopt a Senior program. Lisa Houghtaling of Sabinsville adopted two CV students, Sarah Boyer and Kendra Smeltz, and one Galeton graduate, Kate Kulish.

“They have been near and dear to me since they were infants. We never dreamed graduation would be under these circumstances.”

Erica LaPoint of Middlebury Center knew Santana Bradshaw from Tioga. LaPoint said, “She always seems to be positive and happy no matter the circumstances. The local seniors need to be built up after the heartbreak they have experienced.”

Jackie Ogden of Covington describes her adopted senior, Sara Swingle of Mansfield, as “one of the most polite kiddos I’ve ever had the privilege of meeting. I feel they need encouragement as they struggle with having their senior year cut short with absolutely no notice whatsoever. Now the memories will be made in quarantine.”

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