Megan Lee poses with her gift from her sponsor. Lee, senior of Riverview High School, received a gift from her community sponsor as a part of a senior Facebook page.

By Karin Davis-Thompson

The onset of COVID-19 has meant cancelled proms, graduation ceremonies and celebrations for high school seniors. But local resident Elena Dench refuses to let this year’s senior class end their high school career without a memorable way to celebrate.

Dench started a Facebook group in late April called ‘Lithia & Riverview FL c/o 2020 ‘Adopt A Senior’” as a way to connect students with members of the community willing to help students celebrate their senior year with a special gift. So far, she has found sponsors to ‘adopt’ nearly 150 seniors from the Lithia, Riverview, Brandon and Plant City areas.

Dench, a licensed practical nurse, said she first saw the concept when a friend in Georgia with a graduating senior posted on Facebook with an organization sponsoring the concept for students in the area.

“After I was seeing people posting their senior pictures to Facebook I was thinking, that doesn’t really help show support for these kids,” she said.

But when she saw her friend’s post on Facebook, she was inspired.

“I just thought it was a terrific idea,” she said.

The idea is simple, high school seniors in public, private or charter schools request to join the page and post a photo of themselves (or multiple photos) along with a detailed bio. Then, potential sponsors join the page, read about the students and choose a senior to sponsor.

Once they choose a student, the parent and sponsor talk about their senior in more detail and coordinate the delivery of the student’s gift.

So far, students from at least 14 schools have participated. Dench said reading about the students has been an inspiration.

“I really enjoy reading about these kids,” said the mother of two. “So many of them have over a 4.0 GPA, admirable volunteer resumes and a set of twins even has a nonprofit they created to provide first aid kits to underserved schools.”

Dench said she encourages people to take a look at the page regularly as students are continuing to join and post. The 48-year-old also said teachers are even signing up to adopt former students.

“They are still supporting these kids, even if they were their second grade teacher,” she said. “It has been so sweet to see and shows just how much teachers pour into and care about their kids.”