Adopt-a-senior provides memories as graduations remain up in the air

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As graduations across the state hang in the balance with the continuing coronavirus crisis, Wendy Forbis Buono was searching for a way to honor local students.

Her older sister lives outside of Indianapolis, and she told Buono that her son’s high school had been starting an adopt-a-senior program. Buono joined the group and got in touch with its administrator, and other members were providing pointers on how to make a Johnston version successful.

As a non-native Rhode Islander, Buono was worried that she wouldn’t have an established network of support from growing up with people in the area. Those worries would prove to be unfounded.

The group – known as “Adopt a Johnston High School Senior 2020!” – now has more than 300 members and has adopted upward of 50 seniors, Buono said. All those interested have to do is sign up and reach out to the group, and their effort doesn't even have to be made public – “If you know a senior you want to show some love to, just do it.”

“It’s really amazing, it really is,” Buono said in a phone interview with the Sun Rise last week. “I was worried about having the ties to the community like everybody else here has. Everybody here has been born here, went to school with each other, they all know each other. I don’t have that, in terms of community ties, so being able to pull it off was just really amazing.”

Buono said the effort extends beyond Johnston High School, too, as the initiative is open to students at Moses Brown and Bay View as well. She said the response all around has been “awesome.”

“There’s one boy who has five people that have adopted him,” Buono said. “It’s really awesome to see somebody see he’s already been adopted, but I don’t have anybody so I’ll take him, too. It’s nice to see people getting along and coming together as a community.”

Maria Riccio – who notified the Sun Rise of the adopt-a-senior effort – said her daughter, Madison Riccio Kenny, was among the students supported by the community. Riccio said her daughter’s adoption was the “absolute sweetest thing,” and it has gone a long way in making new memories.

“It really is the most touching thing,” Riccio said via email.

“The woman that adopted my daughter was a complete stranger to us. Her kindness truly touched us. It is a beautiful thing to see our community come together like this.”

The situation hits especially close to home for Buono, whose son Anthony Andriole is no stranger to having graduations postponed. She said her son joined the Rhode Island Army National Guard and participated in basic training last summer, only to have his graduation at Fort Jackson in Florida cancelled because of Hurricane Dorian.

He couldn’t complete his Eagle Scout work because of basic training, and he won’t get to experience senior send-off, prom or “all of those special things that go along with graduation.” Luckily, though, the adopt-a-senior program has shown Andriole support before he heads out June 1 to complete his Army training.

“He was upset about that and really looking forward to graduation this year, so he’s gone through a range of emotions … He recently found out he’s going to be leaving June 1 to finish up his training with the Army, so regardless of what the school system decides in terms of graduation, he will never have a high school graduation,” Buono said. “That’s sad, so I’m really happy to see the community rallying around and offering him some support before he leaves.”

Buono and Riccio aren’t alone in their appreciation of the rapid reaction, as other parents and families post pictures of happy students to the page every day. Whether they received some candy and soda, a Yankees-branded tumbler or a care package of snacks, the kids know the Panther community is still there for them – even if they won’t be able to see them in the crowd at the VETS auditorium this June.

“It won’t give [Madison] the graduation she has dreamed of, but when she looks back she will remember the kindness of strangers,” Riccio said.

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