OTISFIELD — Necessity is the mother of innovation, as the saying goes.

It has happened over and over since the coronavirus took hold, with restaurants finding new ways to accommodate diners, traditions and gatherings going “remote” and millions of people working from home – saving money on their car insurance and noticeably improving the climate worldwide.

Over the winter, Miranda Hinckley, mother of an Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School senior, decided to bring a little innovation to her daughter’s entire graduating class by launching the Facebook page, OHCHS Adopt a Senior 2021.

Miranda Hinckley, left, started a communitywide Adopt a Senior movement to recognize 2021 graduates of Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School in Paris. She stand with her daughter, Courtney, who is a member of the class. Supplied photo

“I didn’t come up with the idea myself,” Hinckley said in a recent ZOOM interview. “I was visiting my sister in Massachusetts and she was telling me how my niece’s boyfriend is a senior and this was something their school has done for the last two years. To make them feel special because they are all missing out on so much.

“I thought it was a great idea,” Hinckley said. “She showed me the basket she was putting together for him. When I came home I started asking other parents about it and no one really knew how to go to about it.”

Hinckley reached out to her high school friend running the project in Athol, Massachusetts, to see how she had done it. The friend had set up a private Facebook group for parents to post and select students for whom they could provide graduation gifts.

“I chose not to do it that way because there are parents who are not on the internet,” Hinckley explained. “And I wanted kids to be able to put their own picture up or for their own friends. So ours is not a private group. The students can see if they’ve been adopted.”

Hinckley said after starting the page the biggest obstacle was how to get the gifts to the students. With people not getting out a lot there were no easy ways to make face-to-face exchanges. She left it up to seniors’ parents how they wanted to coordinate for their children. They could decide whether to do parking lot swaps or provide their mailing address to have gifts shipped.

“The school is not involved at all,” Hinckley said. “No information about the kids comes from the school.

“To get started I just put out a picture of my daughter Courtney and her best friend Bryanna Smith and invited a few people that I knew were parents of seniors. And word spread fast,” she said.

Adoption presents have been varied from the start. Gift cards are popular, as are cash and snacks. Some adopters choose what to give according to the student’s adoption profile.

Hinckley, who has a military background, adopted a senior who has already joined the Army and completed basic training and gave him a pocket watch engraved with the U.S. Army’s insignia. Others have received jewelry with meaningful charms or quotes, books, arts and crafting supplies and college supplies.

Maine State Police Sgt. Daniel Hansen, a graduate of Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School in Paris, adopted  a student in the tech school’s law enforcement program who is going on to serve in the military. He presented the senior with a Challenge Coin.

Maine State Police Sgt. Daniel Hansen presents a Challenge Coin for achievement to Oxford Hills Comprehenstive High School senior senior Pater Traverse. Hansen adopted him as part of a community-based graduate recognition program. Submitted photo

“Challenge Coins have been used by the military and law enforcement in different ways but one use is as a token of respect for achievement,” Hansen said in an email. “Peter (Traverse), as well as all seniors, have been faced with a difficult path to the end of their high school education.

“Peter kept his head up and found his path moving forward by joining the military and serving his community and country, which is an honorable decision,” Hansen said. “I gave him the coin as a token of achievement for facing the challenge of this pandemic and for joining the military.

“As a graduate of Oxford Hills I stay active in the community,” Hansen said. “This group is a great example of what the community can do for these kids. They had visions of what their senior year would look like and that changed in such a dramatic way.

“The community is stepping in to try to create memories that will replace those taken from them. We are very blessed to be in such a supporting community,” he said.

Hinckley started the group Feb. 17 and within a day it had more than 300 members. As of March 25 there were 860. Even with that many community members taking part in senior adoptions, only 128 of the school’s 261 seniors have been nominated (posted) on the Facebook page so far. Hinckley wants to see every one adopted before their high school careers come to an end in June.

“The Facebook page is managing itself at this point,” Hinckley said. “Anyone with a Facebook account can participate, but not everyone does and there are lots of people who don’t use the internet. At this point my focus is on making sure that every senior gets their chance to be adopted. Some parents may not wish to have their kids’ information posted online, but there are people who would like to adopt them offline so they can still be involved.”

Some organizations have posted that they are specifically hoping to adopt students with low profiles; the Norway Baptist Church and Stoneham Rescue Department posted such requests on the page. In return, students and their parents post pictures and words of thanks for the gifts and cards they have received.

Hinckley intends to facilitate the adoption gifts however she can. If transportation is an issue for anyone to meet up she will act as the middleman. For people who cannot afford postage to mail gifts she will help them with the expense. She is keeping tabs on the adoptions for each student entered. The one with the most is a senior who recently had a parent pass away.

“The most important thing is that all students are able to take advantage of this program,” she said. “I don’t know exactly how many kids are in the class or how to identify them. I know the word is getting out there, but I think there will be some that it will be difficult. My vision is to find a way to reach every single one.”

Any individual or organization can join the group and either post about “their” senior for adoption or offer to adopt others. It is up to them to coordinate delivery of gifts with or without Hinckley’s help. They may also email her at [email protected] for more information on how to take part if they prefer to participate offline.

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