HANCOCK COUNTY — When they first came together as kindergartners, members of the class of 2020 could never have guessed their high school careers would end up like this.
Proms canceled. Commencements postponed. Classes held online.
As students have mourned their losses and tried to make the best of a new normal, strangers have come forward to lend their support to the graduating class.
Adopt-a-Senior programs have popped up all over the country, with grassroots efforts to show a little love to students ending their senior years with much less pomp and circumstance than expected.
In Hancock County, that effort has been led by local nurse Mika Doffin. The Terre Haute native heard of a similar group in the Wabash Valley and decided to launch a program here.
Although her only child is just 10 years old, Doffin’s heart breaks for the seniors who are going out into the world without all the traditions that typically make their senior year so special.
“We need to somehow acknowledge these seniors and what they’re going through and how unique this circumstance is, and still find a day to celebrate them,” said Doffin, an oncology nurse who lives in Greenfield.
As a health-care provider, she’s always had a drive to help those she sees hurting.
“I know a lot of seniors are hurting this year, and I just wanted to fix that. Maybe we can’t fix it, but we can step up and try to bring them some smiles and a little extra sunshine. It felt like it needed to be done,” she said.
Doffin mentioned organizing an Adopt-a-Senior program to some friends on a Greenfield moms’ Facebook page, and the idea took off.
“I thought there would be 20 or 30 seniors taking part, but it’s grown much bigger than I ever imagined,” said Doffin, who personally connects high school and even college seniors with sponsors, who are encouraged to shower the senior with a card, gift and words of support.
Most often, the seniors don’t know their sponsors. Doffin even connected with one sponsor who has anonymously funded gifts for seniors around the country.
“People seem to really feel for this group of students and are compelled to show them our support,” she said.
Greg and Shannon Hall decided to nominate their daughter, Grace, for the program as a way to show some extra support during a relatively disappointing senior year.
“I think it’s such a great thing for the seniors, to help lift their spirits a little. I think it shows them that the community is thinking of them during this difficult time,” said Shannon Hall, adding praise for Doffin for organizing the effort.
Hall’s daughter was heartbroken to miss out on her senior season on the tennis team, not to mention the thrill of going to prom. Although her commencement was rescheduled to July, she’ll have to miss it since she’ll be in training for the Ohio National Guard.
Getting a little extra support from the community goes a long way in making seniors like Grace know that people are thinking of them, her mom said.
Grace was quickly connected with a sponsor, who sent her a laundry basket full of supplies and some quarters that will come handy during her freshman year at the University of Cincinnati, where she plans to study nursing. She also received a department store gift card.
The Adopt-a-Senior program has been a great way for her and fellow seniors to feel the support of their hometown, she said. “Missing out on so much this year has been really hard, but it’s great to know everyone is being so supportive,” she said.
Feedback like that makes all the hard work worth it, said Doffin.
To launch the group, she reached out to local parents, churches and school corporations to gauge interest. She was overwhelmed with the feedback she received.
As of mid-May, more than 300 seniors had been nominated and matched with sponsors in all four Hancock County school systems, and a few smaller independent schools.
Sponsors were asked to send a one-time gift to the senior they were assigned.
“There’s been college supplies that have been sent, lots of laundry baskets and laundry supplies, cookies, flowers. There’s also been some journals the students can use to write down their thoughts on this very unique senior year,” said Doffin.
Messages and photos about many of the gifts have been posted to Facebook by parents. “It’s just fun to see all the random acts of kindness taking place among strangers,” said Doffin, who herself has sponsored five kids.
Getting a gift from a stranger can mean something different than receiving it from a grandparent or friend, she said. “It’s something special, seeing these kids and seeing how appreciative they are.”
More than 1,600 people have joined the program’s Facebook page, following the stories of the seniors who have benefited.
Doffin enjoys hearing their stories, and their exciting plans for the future. One senior plans to be a cardiothoracic surgeon. Another plans to be a funeral director. Many more are headed to trade school.
“It’s fun to hear their stories and learn about how each of these kids is unique,” she said.
The outpouring of support for local seniors has confirmed what Doffin said she already knew, that this community is generous and eager to lend a hand. “I love the Hancock County community,” said Doffin. “I love the small town feel. We’re so close to Indianapolis but the Hancock community still feels small. It still feels like family,” she said.
“I love that we could step up as a family in Hancock County and support these kids.”
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You can learn more by reading the page “Hancock IN Adopt a 2020 Senior” on Facebook.