Group Honors High School Seniors with Gifts

Photo courtesy Gladys Ríos
John Burroughs High School student Gael Grajales hands a St. Patrick’s Day basket to Hayley O’Leary, a senior at Burbank High School. O’Leary was “adopted” by Grajales’ mother Gladys Ríos, who has been sending her gifts to honor her upcoming graduation.

A Facebook group is helping local high school seniors celebrate graduation despite their tumultuous final semester by providing them with some of their favorite gifts.
The group, “Spoil (Adopt) a 2021 Senior,” connects community members with graduating seniors from local institutions, including the John Burroughs, Burbank, Providence and Monterey high schools. Participants purchase items for their “adopted” senior and deliver the gifts.
The group’s efforts are aimed to help seniors retain a sense of celebration and achievement for graduating, an event which due to the pandemic may not be honored with the usual festivities.
“We’ve all been through this [process] of how we tell these kids how great your senior year is,” said Michelle Pinto, who formed the group. “How much fun you get to look forward to, things you get to do — and these kids have nothing.”

Photos courtesy Gladys Ríos
Gael Grajales, a senior at Burroughs High School, holds up his gifts from a “Spoil a Senior” donor. The Facebook group was created to celebrate local students graduating amid the pandemic.Photos courtesy Gladys Ríos
Gael Grajales, a senior at Burroughs High School, holds up his gifts from a “Spoil a Senior” donor. The Facebook group was created to celebrate local students graduating amid the pandemic.

The Burbank Unified School District is planning outdoor in-person graduation ceremonies, according to Superintendent Matt Hill, pending health guidelines from Los Angeles County. But the Facebook group is still active, even advertising local businesses offering personalized gifts for graduating seniors.
Pinto, a Sun Valley resident and an alumna of Burroughs High School, said she was inspired to create the Facebook group nearly a year ago, when she saw a similar page for a different city. She wanted to create an identical initiative for Burbank students, but didn’t have enough time to form the group for the class of 2020.
But after she launched the online group in February, Pinto said, it took off. It had more than 100 seniors up for “adoption” in the first week, and the page now boasts more than 800 students and community members.
“It makes me emotional, because I know how cherished my memories are of high school,” Pinto said. “And so for these kids not to have that really breaks my heart, so it makes me feel really good when I hear these kids and their parents tell me about … what a difference it makes.”
Gael Grajales, a senior at Burroughs, is one of the recipients of the group’s generosity. A member of the school choir, he’s received weekly gifts from his adopters — including a ticket to a drive-in showing of “Stranger Things,” one of his favorite series.
Those gifts, Grajales said, have been a welcome aspect to a rather disappointing year.
“Thank you to everyone who has given gifts to seniors already,” he added, “because even though we’re not going to have prom, and we don’t have choir shows and other activities, we still have this. … We’ll remember it and we’ll talk about it after we graduate.”
Grajales’ mother, Gladys Ríos, wanted to show the same generosity others had displayed to him, adopting a student from Burbank High School and bringing her small items every week. It has been a fulfilling experience, Ríos said, allowing her to connect with another family she wouldn’t have otherwise met.
It was a sentiment shared by Jose Sandoval, a baseball coach with the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. After his own daughter was “adopted” last year following a disrupted final semester, he decided he wanted to support local students in the same way.
Sandoval chose two seniors to give gifts to, though that number soon grew to five as he spotted his players’ names on Pinto’s Facebook group.
“We’re feeling their pain,” he added. “Hopefully this little touch of attention gives them some confidence and [helps them] not feel alone and left out. I know it doesn’t equal to being at school, being with your friends and everything, but a little love goes a long way.”