The story behind Long Beach’s ‘Adopt-A-Senior’ gift-giving frenzy

It was early May when Long Beach Parks and Recreation, Whaley Park program coordinator, Rhiannon Wilson, stumbled upon an inspiring story online. A graduating senior from Texas was gushing over her recent “adoption,” in which someone from her community gifted her a graduation present. With graduations being completely upended, if not canceled altogether, the thoughtful gesture meant a lot to the Texan.

Looking to do something special for her younger brother, soon to graduate from Millikan High School, Wilson scoured Facebook to see if Long Beach was participating in the gift-giving gesture. Surprised to find nothing, she decided to start up her own Facebook group. Wilson anticipated other Millikan High family members might want to join the enterprise, but she never expected the outpouring that soon followed.

Within a week, “Adopt-A-Senior Long Beach” had more than 600 Facebook members from citywide and beyond. The page exploded in activity with dozens of postings popping up every day. Wilson soon realized she was going to need some support moderating the page, and enlisted help from online acquaintances Christine Gibson and Rosalind Ernswife.

Today, the page boasts more than 2,000 members, with over 600 Long Beach Unified seniors and beyond having been the recipients of a personalized gift basket commemorating their milestone.

Rhiannon Wilson is the creator of the “Adopt-A-Senior” Long Beach Facebook page, which now includes over 2,000 members. Image courtesy Facebook.

“It’s just cool to see all the community come together,” said Wilson who ‘s worked for the Parks and Recreation Department for the past 11 years. “People that don’t even have seniors are adopting [other] seniors, so it’s just like a huge group in the community coming together to do this for everyone.”

The concept of “Adopt-A-Senior” is fairly simple: parents, friends or graduating seniors post a photo and short bio to the community page announcing the student is available to be “adopted.” From there, a member of the group can reach out to the person who nominated the graduating elementary, middle, high school or college student to coordinate a special gift or a care-package to surprise the student.

Gift givers are given freedom on what they get their assigned grad. Many have opted for practical items such as school supplies, dorm essentials and gift cards, while others tailored gift-baskets to the tastes of the student, filling them with their favorite snacks, toys or games.

Those who post with “#gratitude” are invited to share messages of thanks, along with reaction photos and videos to the senior receiving their gift.

Senior Eimajah Hunter at Warren High School in Downey was gifted art supplies by Long Beach Unified school teacher Patty McMullen Martinez. Going above and beyond, Martinez sent Hunter gifts over the course of several days. Image courtesy Facebook.

Running the Facebook group has been a fun, heartwarming experience, Wilson said. Often disheartened by the dismal content of recent news and politics inundating social media, seeing the sweet reactions and smiles from the elated students reinvigorated her drive to manage the page while also working two jobs.

“It always brings a smile to your face because it’s so amazing what these people are doing for each other, for people that they don’t know sometimes,” Wilson said.

Originally the plan was to close the Facebook page after the bulk of graduations occurred on June 11, but seeing that people were still posting on the site, Wilson decided to push back on closing the page. As of now, the final day to adopt a graduate is June 30th.

On July 5, the page will close to activity but all the posts will still be available for public viewing. Wilson hopes that graduating ceremonies will be back to normal by next year, but for now, she plans to bring back “Adopt-A-Senior” Long Beach next year.

To check out the “Adopt-A-Senior” Long Beach Facebook page, click here.

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Cheantay Jensen is an editorial intern who covers art and culture for the Hi-lo section of the Long Beach Post.
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