WHIPPANY, NJ - Despite the COVID-19 threat, there have been some districts announcing plans for high school graduations. Some are doing their graduations virtually, while others will plan in-person ceremonies with strict social distancing standards.

For the seniors at Whippany Park High School, something particularly special is being planned for a proper send-off to college. This includes baskets full of special gifts and congratulatory cards from their families, friends, community and local businesses.

This program is known as Adopt a Senior, where residents of Whippany and Cedar Knolls donate funds and items to the graduating Class of 2020 at Whippany Park. The program is run by its administrators Jessica Bartelloni and her mother Amy, from Whippany.

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“There’s a lot of towns around us doing the same thing,” said Jessica, whose 17-year-old sister Victoria will be graduating this year from Whippany Park. “Someone in town asked if anyone would be interested in running this in Whippany and I volunteered because I have a background in charity. I run a program known as Project Glow Gold, which helps kids with pediatric cancer. We wanted to have some normalcy for my sister and her friends.”

Jessica currently attends the County College of Morris, in Randolph, majoring in child and family studies while working as an EMT. She plans one day to be a high school math teacher. But for now, she and her mother have their sights on Adopt a Senior, which was first launched back in early May.

This year, approximately 172 seniors, who attend Whippany Park as well as the Morris County School of Technology, led by salutatorian Sydney Carlson-Zyates and Valedictorian Vanessa Qiu, will be saying goodbye to high school and begin a new chapter in their lives. The graduation event intends to take place virtually on June 25th. On the same day, all seniors will receive their special gifts from their “adopted” relatives. There has been talk that the event may occur outside the week of July 6th, but this is still up in the air.

“People would pick a senior, Venmo me $40, and then that money will be distributed evenly,” said Jessica “Each student was adopted three times each. We are still technically taking in donations. Any extra funds are appreciated.”

Anyone who wishes to get involved and “adopt” a senior of their own, they may go on the Facebook page of Adopt a Senior at https://www.facebook.com/groups/1404296399756486/?ref=share.

“It’s a very big undertaking, but I love it,” she said. “All the kids are really upset about not having a normal graduation so my mom and I just wanted to help out in any way we could. Every single senior parent is involved in this and aware of what's going on, and they are very grateful for it. People have been very nice and generous.”

Local businesses that were also involved with Adopt a Senior, and donated funds and gift items, include Kim Auriamma Floral Designs (Kim Auriemma, from Whippany), Perfered Business Systems (Alissa and Richard Campbell, from Whippany), Shoprite (in Morristown and Parsippany), Stop & Shop (from Morris Plains), Shear Temptation (Jen Lembo), Wegmans, Reminisce (Kris LeDonne), Barclays, Atlantic Health, the Salem Drive School PTA, Mountview Road School PTA, the Cedar Knolls Fire Department, the Whippany Fire Department, the Hanover Township FBMA Local #109, and Doug Williams Candy Business.