No looking back

Published 7:00 am Saturday, April 19, 2014

ONE BIG, HAPPY FAMILY: The family shown from left are: Todd Lane, Herb Lane, Sandy Lane, Kristina Lane, Tommy Lane, Jessie Penton and Casey Penton. Photo submitted

ONE BIG, HAPPY FAMILY: The family shown from left are: Todd Lane, Herb Lane, Sandy Lane, Kristina Lane, Tommy Lane, Jessie Penton and Casey Penton.
Photo submitted

Children find a home and future through foster family.

Courage is a word that can be used to describe 17-year-old Jessie Penton of Picayune. 

As a young child, Penton knew little about stability and far too much about loss.

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When she was five-years-old, she was involved in a single car accident that took the life of her father late in the night.

The little girl wandered up and down a portion of Interstate 59, with no shoes, trying to get help. She feared her father was no longer alive and she had a broken collarbone and fractured elbow.

Fortunately, two different drivers saw her and pulled over to help.

One of those vehicles belonged to Andrew and Tammy Valente. It was Tammy Valente who Penton remembers most.

“Everything from that point on is really blurry. I just remember her talking to me and taking my hand,” Penton said. “It was like she wasn’t real; she made me feel safe.”

After two weeks in the hospital, Penton returned home to her mother and young brother.

“My mom had a drug problem and an abusive boyfriend. One day they got in a really bad fight one day and my mom left us at home and never came back. We went next door and spent the night with our neighbors,” Penton said.

Her neighbor brought them to the Department of Human Services on the coast.

Seven years ago, she and her younger brother Casey found a home with Sandy and Herb Lane of Picayune, seven years ago.

“My husband and I had not discussed being a final home for children when we met Jessie and Casey. They came to us after being through a series of foster homes in a very short time,” Lane said. “We were open to being temporary home for the children to buy time for their social worker to locate a suitable home for them.

“The social worker told to us that we were their last chance to stay placed together, they had been unable to find a family who would take both.”

The Lane family prayed and made the decision that the Penton children had reached a new permanent home. They now had a family and their lives were going to be good from that point on, Lane said.

“We applied and received legal and durable custody,” Lane said. “We are their parents and our sons Tommy and Todd are their brothers.”

When they came to live with the Lanes, Jessie was four years behind in school and Casey was two years behind. Lane hired a third grade teacher to catch Casey Penton up and enrolled Jessie Penton at Goss Road Home School with Shannon McCormick.

The two are now honor roll students and both play baseball. Jessie Penton has just received a softball scholarship to Southwest Mississippi Community College (SMCC), which is a rare accomplishment for a student who never played high school athletics.

Lane said, “These kids have been a blessing to Herb and me. They have kept us young.  My older two sons are successful and I have to say they have been mentors to both of the younger ones.

“They are very active in the younger one’s lives. Todd has been the curriculum coordinator and Tommy has been the activity coordinator. It takes a village, and thankfully they have a village between the church and our family.”

Church, faith and family are big priorities in the life of a young girl who knew little about either of those words when she came to live with the Lanes.

Penton credits her relationship with God to the healing that took place in her heart after past events. She faithfully attends church with her family and is active in her youth group.

In addition to her scholarship and completion of high school, Penton recently had another dream fulfilled.

She was reunited with the woman she remembered from the night of her wreck.

She recently met Valente at her real estate office for a tear filled reunion.

“I was looking forward to meeting her,” Penton said. “I have tried for a while. It was pretty awesome and I found out that we attend the same church and sit very close to each other.

“It was healing to meet her and hear her perspective on the wreck. She cleared up a lot of the blurriness for me. Through meeting her I found out that my father was not dead when I left to go get help. My dad had been able to say a few words to Tammy’s husband.”

Valente told Penton that she had always remembered that night and often wondered what had happened to her.

Since reuniting, Valente and Penton now sit by each other through church services.

“Our meeting has probably made us lifelong friends,” Penton said.

Penton hopes to share her story and her testimony of hope with other teens.

“I would like to speak to groups and share my story,” she said. “I want them to know that no matter how dark things may appear, God can reach you and turn things around. I don’t know where I will end up in my life, but I know through faith that it will be better than I could ever imagine.”

Lane said, “I am so proud of these kids. I encourage everyone to open their hearts to a child in need.”