By Kelly Morgan


They are adopting teens, but they don’t have pick up wet towels up off the bathroom floor or reach for imaginary brake pedals when teaching them to drive.

The congregation of Cullowhee United Methodist Church and Jackson Community School have started an Adopt-A-Senior program, a volunteer-based program designed to recognize and reward the hard work of this year’s high school seniors.

The program started when JCS Principal Angela Lunsford saw nearby schools enacting similar programs. Lunsford said that parents spearheaded these efforts, but that JCS, unfortunately, does not have a Parent-Teacher Association she could turn to in order to start the program.

Instead, she looked to Cullowhee United Methodist Church.

In 2017, CUMC partnered with JCS to help fulfill the needs usually met by a school’s PTA. Once a month, the congregation provides a meal for the school staff. The church members also do what they can to meet different students’ needs.

“They essentially adopted our school,” Lunsford said.

After seeing the other Adopt-A-Senior programs, she reached out to Julia Heckert, the associate minister of CUMC, to ask for her help in starting a similar program at JCS.

Heckert said her church was happy to help reward these seniors, specifically since getting a high school diploma is such a huge achievement, and should be honored as such.

“We’re very project-oriented,” she said of her church. “We focus on loving God by loving our neighbors.”

The Adopt-A-Senior program is one more item on the long list of community service work CUMC does, she said.

In terms of what the actual adoption process entails, Lunsford said it can consist of “whatever a person wants it to,” including giving the student a handwritten card, a gift card, cash or a gift of some sort. She said people can do “as much or as little as anyone wants.”

Though CUMC members were the first people to adopt JCS seniors, Lunsford has since posted the Adopt-A-Senior information on Facebook. So far, about 30 more people have reached out to her asking to participate. 

Members of Caroline Williamson’s group, The Village People, a collection of local business owners, have also stepped up to help.

Lunsford has said repeatedly how much this will mean to her students.

“These are very trying times, and we want our kids to have something to look forward to,” she said. “For a lot of these kids, these are the only graduation gifts they’ll get. Someone would never know what a difference a $10 gift card can make in a child’s life. It shows them that someone took the time out of his or her own life to think about them and make them feel special.” 

Lunsford has decided that in the following years, even when graduation remains on schedule, she wants to continue this program so that her students feel appreciated and “get the acknowledgment everyone else gets.”

To adopt JCS seniors, call David Dalton, office manager at 586-4328. The program will continue through June 2.

Morgan is a Sylva Herald intern.