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Rifle bands together to supply graduating seniors with positivity

Tina Bowlan came from a place where community was paramount — just like Rifle.

When COVID-19 hit Colorado, the two teamed up to make a difference with a Facebook group called, “Adopt a Senior.”

After starting the group April 18, they now have 687 members and counting, as well as every senior having received an adoption. Local mother to a Rifle senior, Amy Lujan, is helping Bowlan manage it.

“I moved here about four-and-a-half years ago,” Bowlan said. “In the town we used to live in, somebody invited me to participate in the (Adopt Program) there, and I thought, ‘What a great idea.’

“The reason why we started it is because the seniors are missing out on so much. They’re not getting to end their school year, they’re not getting to take their final classes, they missed their prom. They worked so hard and it’s so sad.”

The program is simple. A parent or senior posts to the group, asking to be part of the giving. Soon after, they’re “adopted” by another parent or family and brought snacks, books, cards, gift cards and even signs.

All of the gifts are based on the adopters getting to know what the students like.

Several donors are teachers at both Rifle High School and Rifle Middle School. The rest consist of other teachers from the area and fellow parents who are seeing kids going through adversity.

No one is required to join or support the group. The schools have chosen to let everything remain on a voluntary basis. In Rifle though, it’s easy to find people wanting to help seniors.

“I think, in any great organization or group of people, there are people who have nothing to gain except for doing right by others,” Rifle High School principal John Arledge said. “I think of people like Tina and Amy— who has a senior — they’re the two driving forces. I think if Amy would’ve had a kid that’s a freshman and Tina would’ve had a senior, I still think those people would’ve stepped up and said, ‘Hey, let’s do this for our kids.’”

RMS principal, Jenny Nipper, who hosted many of the graduating seniors at her school, had her own unique gift. As part of her weekly drop-offs, she donated her seniors — two boys — John Wooden’s book, “Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections On and Off the Court.”

Only a few days later, while sitting at Dunkin’, Nipper was greeted by one of the beneficiaries of the donation after he jumped out of his car and rushed over to thank her.

“He said, ‘Thank you so much for that book. That’s the best book,’” Nipper said. “I would say this whole thing has been able to make me slow down and find joy in their maturity and growing up.”

Carrie Johnson Photography has also crafted signs for each senior’s adopting family to purchase for their lawns. Those same photos and designs are in the process of being put onto lamp poles throughout the town as well, though a full plan isn’t clear yet.

As of now, Rifle is still looking to have a graduation ceremony and parade, though they’ll be postponed into the summer – setting a specific date is nearly impossible right now.

“We really want to have a real graduation in the stadium,” Arledge said. “Instead of saying, ‘Hey we’re going to have a graduation,’ we have to follow the laws and guidelines that are set. We’re shooting for probably sometime in later July.

“Our seniors, at this point, it’s almost 9-to-1 want to hold out for a real graduation. So, we’re listening to our kids.”

Everything being done in Rifle is for the seniors. They didn’t ask for special treatment, but the idea has sparked an avalanche of giving. 

They want a graduation ceremony, but the event is still on a to-be-determined basis. If it doesn’t happen, they’ll understand the circumstances were simply too unsafe. The community has still made it a memorable experience.

“It makes everything better,” Rifle senior Derek Wagler said. “I think that it’s a great way through social media and in general for the whole community to get together. Even though times may be tough, it’s kind of a reminder that things can be good again.” 

lzahlmann@postindependent.com