Caralyn Dufala rumbled down the stairs of her Mars home Monday evening and received some startling news.
“We're putting you up for adoption,” said her mother, Amy Dufala.
For a moment, Caralyn held her breath and knitted her brows together. The Mars Area High School senior was confused.
Then her mother let her in on the secret.
Earlier in the day, Amy Dufala happened across a Facebook group called “Butler County 2020 Adopt a Senior.” The page was established by Dawn Davis, a former Butler resident who wanted to do something — anything, really — to help high school seniors cope with all they have lost because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The idea of the page is to match graduating seniors with benefactors throughout the community who will send them care packages to lift their spirits.
Caralyn hasn't received her basket of goodies yet, but just the idea provides some joy.
“We're not getting a traditional senior year, and this is a sort of a graduation gift,” Caralyn said. “It means a lot to me.”
No seniors left behind
Davis started the Facebook page for seniors just like Caralyn — seniors who need something to bring a smile to their face.
Davis has three grown children out on their own now. But the former Prospect resident thought about what it would have been like if any one of them would have had to go through what the Class of 2020 face now.
She decided to act.
Davis heard about similar Facebook senior adoption groups in other states and decided to start her own in Butler County.
“I created it and invited as many people on my friends list as I could,” Davis said.
The page quickly flourished.
Within 48 hours, the group was up to 2,400 members. Seniors were being posted by their families and snatched up by eager well-wishers faster than Davis could keep track.
“I'm glad it took off,” Davis said. “It's wonderful. I'm trying to make sure no one goes unadopted.”
She's off to a good start.
The page is already full of posts from happy seniors who have received care packages from anonymous supporters.
Most gifts are simple: greeting cards and gift cards, candies and other confections to help cheer up a sad senior.
“I love seeing the pictures of their reactions when they receive their gifts,” Davis said.
Davis sometimes plays matchmaker, but mostly directs traffic.
“I've had seniors' families (instant message) me asking, 'What is this all about? What do I need to do?' Davis said.
Also reaching out are prospective adopters contacting her to request a senior from a particular school.
If Davis has one lament it is her inability to reach seniors who are not members of Facebook.
“Those are the forgotten seniors,” Davis said. “I don't want them to fall through the cracks.”
That's a difficult challenge to tackle and Davis isn't sure how to rectify it yet.
The seniors who have been adopted said they appreciate the gesture more than Davis could ever know.
“I'm super grateful,” said Butler Area High School senior Nate Cornibe. “It's such a great thing.”
Nate, a football player at Butler heading to Cornell University on a football scholarship, received a package containing pictures of himself with his friends.
“That's probably my favorite,” Nate said.
He also received gift cards and snacks — plenty of Hershey's Kisses and jalapeño-flavored munchies.
“I've gotten a lot of candy,” Nate said. “I like spicy stuff, so I've gotten some of that, too.”
Butler senior Fallon Brim also received a package chock full of some of her favorite things.
The pièce de résistance: a Dunkin' gift card.
Like Caralyn, Fallon didn't know she was put up for “adoption” by her mother, Deb Brim.
It wasn't until the package arrived that she knew what was up.
“I had no idea it was coming,” Fallon said. “I thought it was really nice. It was a nice way to let us know we weren't forgotten.”
For Nate, it's also reaffirmation that things will get back to normal.
If not right now, then some day.
For the time being, all one can do is look on the bright side of things, he said.
And eat candy.
“This is eventually going to be over and we're going to be OK,” Nate said. “We will.”
Extra special meaning for one Mars teen
Unlike Nate and Fallon, Caralyn's high school career has been anything but traditional — making Davis' effort that much more special for the teen.
Mars is the fourth high school Caralyn has attended. Her father, Chip, has a job in the insurance industry that requires the family to relocate often.
Before Mars, she attended two high schools in Illinois and one in New Jersey. The family's multiple relocations made finishing her senior year at home even more heartbreaking for Caralyn.
She is on the yearbook committee and was also a member on the stage crew of the school's musical, “Mamma Mia,” which was canceled a week before the first show.
She and her friend, senior Alexis Barger, have tried to cushion the blow for their classmates by creating an Instagram page honoring Mars seniors.
It still doesn't take all the anguish away.
“I'm upset I'm unable to experience senior year, but also excited since so many people are willing to help out to make my senior year better,” Caralyn said. “It's a really cool experience.”
And while she's been able to keep in touch online through social media and FaceTime with friends from all the schools she attended over the years, Caralyn points out that it's not the same.
She was especially looking forward to finishing her senior year in Mars because her family has moved so many times.
“I think it's really sweet that someone I've never met before is willing to put something together for me,” Caralyn said, moved by Davis' effort. “After moving so much and not getting to experience the end of my senior year, being adopted is really kind of bittersweet.”