As told by Emily Molson and Pedro Peralta, West40 Seniors Plus Advocates
“In the West40 Seniors Plus program, we work with high school seniors who, for whatever reason, weren’t able to graduate. They’re anywhere from 18 to 22 years old and they come to us for help with finishing their education. There’s a steady flow of people that we serve. Some weeks we have two graduates, other times it’s five graduates.
We have opening remarks and short speeches from school leaders, administrators and students. Our Advocates also go onstage and do ‘shout outs’ about each student and their journey in the program. Then the students receive small gift bags and we all share cake, cookies and refreshments. It’s usually a nice two-hour event.
But this year, because of the coronavirus, the last part of our school year was cancelled and we didn’t have the chance to have a real celebration. A lot of the students already feel disconnected from school, so the End of the Year Celebration means a lot. And missing it was a big deal to the students.
So our Seniors Plus team decided to do the next best thing: bring the celebration right to each student by going door-to-door—all while maintaining social distance, of course.
We wanted to give the students that feeling of celebration, marking this moment of reaching a major goal in their lives. They’ve been stuck at home for months, so this was a chance to see our Seniors Plus team and enjoy a sense of normalcy for a few minutes, to celebrate a little bit.
We created a schedule and set aside specific times. We started texting our students to see if we could come celebrate them, and the time spots filled up right away.
Over the course of a few days, our team of eight people visited about 15 total students. When we’d arrive at a house, students would be outside their doors waiting for us, often with siblings, aunts, uncles, even neighbors coming out to join in. The students were overjoyed. They’d come bump elbows with us and we’d ask how they were doing. They were excited to update us, but also wanted to know how we were doing. We form really close bonds in our Seniors Plus program.
The most memorable visit was with a student named Haydee. She’s about seven months pregnant, married, and lives with her husband in an apartment. She actually finished school in November, but had been waiting for an End of the Year Celebration that of course, we didn’t get to hold. When we arrived at Haydee’s building, she and her husband ran down to meet us. She was wearing a beautiful white dress and heels. Her husband had a camera around his neck and was taking Polaroid pictures the whole time.
Haydee told us how much the moment meant to her and how excited she had been for us to meet her husband. When you’re in school day in and day out, you don’t have time to think about it, but it’s in moments like that that you realize what an impact our program is having on our students’ lives.”