After receiving a random invite to join a Facebook group celebrating graduates from an Indiana high school, Gail McCoy-Vaughn thought it was "a brilliant idea" and decided to do the same for Rutherford County Schools.
The page — RCS Adopt A Senior — went live at 7:41 p.m. on April 15.
When McCoy-Vaughn went to bed that night, there were more than 300 members and another 500 waiting to join by the time she woke up the next morning. Today, the group now has more than 9,200 members.
"It just took off," McCoy-Vaughn said. "It's overwhelming."
The page explains that dealing with the pandemic and the closing of schools has been "a crazy and scary time" for everyone, especially the senior class of 2020, who have missed out lots of traditional year-end activities.
RCS Adopt A Senior connects the community with this year's graduates and allows them to offer decorative yard signs, gift cards or "anything to put a smile on their face."
Parents and even seniors are encouraged to post photos of the graduates and then McCoy-Vaughn and a team of volunteers, including Angelia Cochran, help to ensure each senior is matched up with a community member.
A local family doctor recognized one senior as a patient and knew the family was having a tough time financially, so he bought a week's worth of groceries for the family and a gift for the senior.
Another community member, who joined the group, paid for senior photo package.
"There are so many messages I've gotten from people that I wish I could tell everybody," McCoy-Vaughn said, "but they're so private, and they're so personal that I know I can't."
Cochran's daughter Jesse is a senior at Siegel High.
Working with the group has allowed Angelia and Jesse to spend time together.
"She's been going with me and helping me make baskets for other kids," Angelia said, "so she's getting out of the house and actually enjoying something that has (otherwise) been devastating to her."
Angelia continued, "She's loving seeing everybody coming together, helping out, cheering everybody else up."
The group has received more than 3,000 messages, McCoy-Vaughn said.
She and Cochran and five other page administrators — Maral Sajelian Venable, Amber Layhew, Katherine Ladd, Katie Trachet and Courtney McClain — have worked every day to sort through the messages and divide them into topics sorted by schools.
School would have ended the last week of May.
However, students have been out of school since March 13, and so McCoy-Vaughn said she is thinking about keeping the group active through summer and into next fall.
"They're still going to need support," McCoy-Vaughn said of the graduates whose lives to this point have been bookended by the tragedies of 9/11 in 2001 and now the coronavirus pandemic of 2020.
Cochran added, "To go through all that … I just hope they look at everything and see that we have to remember to be there for each other no matter what. That's what I really hope they get out of everything that's happened in their lives so far, is that we have to make sure we're always there for each other."
McCoy-Vaughn agreed and has been humbled by the response from the entire community.
However, she's knows there are more students not yet represented and hopes the word of mouth continues to spread throughout Rutherford County.
"I've never been part of anything like this in my life," McCoy-Vaughn concluded, "and I think it has changed me more and done more for me than what it has done for the seniors. You can feel a difference in the air."
By KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT, Rutherford County Schools/PHOTO PROVIDED