COCKE COUNTY, Tenn. — Seniors in Cocke County are mourning the loss of their final year of high school, but thanks to a community initiative, they will all be together again in the form of yard signs.
Crystal Ford, the owner of Ford's Cruise Thru in Newport, is on a mission to honor Cocke County's class of 2020 in a way that will stick.
"I want the seniors to know that this community is behind them," Ford said.
In April, Ford's niece Danyale Grahl, who is a senior at Cocke County High School, sent her aunt a Snapchat. She talked of all she would miss out on because of the pandemic.
"I missed out on senior prom, I won't get annuals to be signed, you know graduation being postponed, not seeing friends again," Grahl listed.
It got Ford thinking and feeling sorry for every senior who was forced to cut their school year short.
"Because, you know, it's not just her that's feeling this way," Ford explained, referencing her niece. "Everybody's life is kind of on hold with this."
After seeing a post about how the principal at a Florida high school displayed the seniors' portraits, Ford knew she needed to do something similar, but with 18x24 yard signs.
The local sign shop Rocky Top Grafix said it would help out with the production of the signs.
So, Crystal got to work enlisting the community's help through a fundraiser on Facebook.
"In less than 72 hours, we met our goal plus some and I was I was amazed," Ford admitted. "I mean, I was in tears that this community truly came together for this for these seniors who deserve something."
Now, people are posting pictures of every senior in a Facebook Group to put on each sign. They are still in need of pictures of some seniors, listed on the "Class of 2020 Senior Pictures for Signs" Facebook group.
"When I woke up this morning, we broke 20,000 posts, comments and likes," Ford laughed in disbelief.
Each photo posted is evidence the students are all together again, even if it's not in the classroom.
"I feel like it'll bring a lot of us together, maybe some of the seniors that didn't think they would get recognition or didn't think that they would see their friends again," Grahl explained.
The signs went on display in front of the Newport Community Center. Seniors will be able to pick their signs up after Thursday, May 28.
"It is gonna make everybody proud of this community for truly coming together with this for these seniors," Ford nodded.
The Facebook group "Cocke County Adopt a Senior/Class of 2020" helped raise money for the signs to be put on display. So far, 228 high school seniors have been adopted by members throughout the community. Each senior has been encouraged and has received various cards, gift cards, packages through the mail from their adopters. Many sponsors paid for their "adopted seniors'" sign.
If you would like to submit your Cocke County senior's photo and don't have Facebook, Ford said you can call or text her at (423) 608-0638. You can also drop off a photo at Ford's Cruise Thru at 611 US-25, Newport, TN 37821.
You can still make donations if you wish through Facebook or by dropping cash or check off at Ford's Cruise Thru. All extra money collected is going toward another special gift for Cocke County seniors and a grad celebration in the future.