THE PENNY PROJECT
by Desnee E. Young
What does one do when a marriage ends and a family is broken apart? Penny Jones found herself in such a position. How was she to mend not only her heart but also teach her two children, Will and Ryan, how to move forward with the confidence of knowing that life goes on and theirs would be one filled with love, hope and celebration? What Penny did not know was that by taking one step towards healing her family, she would change the lives of many others. God would give her beauty for ashes.
Penny decided that volunteerism would be the avenue that she and her children would travel. By helping others her hope was that her children would become involved in something that they could be proud of and teach them the importance of giving of self. Everything was going as planned when a friend talked to Penny about the possibility of opening her home to children in the Foster Care System. After giving it some thought, Penny took the necessary classes and in 2007 prepared her home to receive Aurelia, a beautiful little girl, that was placed under Penny’s care for ten nights to provide respite for her foster parents. Eventually, fifteen month old Aurelia was returned to her father. A few months later he was arrested and charged with the murder of Aurelia. Aurelia’s death according to Penny is where her passion for child welfare originated.
Heartbroken, Penny mourned Aurelia’s death, but continued to receive foster children into the lives of her family. In 2010 twins Ryan and a Rogenna arrived. The children thrived under her care and their mother worked diligently towards improving her life so that she could once again have her children. Penny became extended family to the twins, their mother and other family members. Eventually reunited with their biological family, the twins are well and they continue to thrive.
Looking forward to opening her home again, Penny learned of four siblings that had been taken from their mother and placed in foster care. Tariji, a newborn, whose twin was now deceased, Talia, Timothy and Icesis. Because of the mother’s history, the other siblings were removed from their mother’s home and placed in various foster homes, the goal being adoption for the children. Beautiful Icesis would become a part of Penny’s family and Penny opened her home not only to her but had requested the brother Timothy come to live with her as soon as possible. Tariji had some medical issues and Penny was immediately drawn to her and soon was able to welcomed Tariji into her home. Due to processing issues the plan for the children to be adopted was changed with reunification with the mother being the goal.
Both families shared beach days, holidays and many other events together. Through all of the trials and tribulations the birth mother finally completed the court ordered programs that would give her custody of her children and two and one-half years later in November of 2013 they were reunited. Visits with Mama Penny continued. The children seemed different and Penny reported the children’s comments of spankings to the case managers who promised that spontaneous visitations would occur. With each visit with Mama Penny, the children’s behavior had visibly changed, and Tariji and Timothy clung to their older sister Icesis. Then, on February 10, 2014, three months after being reunified with her mother Penny received a phone call informing her that Tariji had been killed. Her mother later turned herself in and was charged with her death.
How does one move on after losing a child? Biological or not, Penny belonged to Tariji and Tariji to her. Even though she was grieving, her thoughts immediately were on Tariji’s siblings whom she knew would be placed again in various foster homes if she did not get them back immediately. Penny had seen the toll of separation on the siblings and had gotten to know and love them all. It was her wish to have them all come live with her. Talia, who had never lived with Penny, was now with her siblings.
Now came the hard part. The children needed therapy and the next year would be one filled with dealing with the mental and physical abuse that had been inflicted on the children. The children, one by one, completed their various therapy programs and one year later Penny adopted all three of the children, who are thriving under her care. There was only one thing left to do. Honor Aurelia and Tariji by working to change the foster care system. In this Penny is relentless. From these tragedies, The Penny Project was born.
Penny’s focus for children in the foster care system and the mission of the Penny Project is to strengthen life impacted through child abuse through advocacy and education. Advocacy through Case management, Law enforcement, Reunification Planning, Protecting a Life, Mental Health Evaluation and Listening to the Children, Restoring Innocence, and Survivor Well-Being.
Jump on the Bus, a program founded by Penny and consists of young adults that have aged-out of foster care. The group meets and attends events together or just gets together to celebrate holidays. It is about a sense of belonging for young adults and lets them know that they do have a family and people that care for them.
The story does not end here. There is so much more that could be dwelled upon, but through tragedy a new family was birthed and along with it a new story is being written. It begins with a new life for three beautiful souls, it continues with revamping a system sorely in need of attention, and a commitment from the community to watch over those too young and innocent to protect themselves.
“I have experienced the best of Child Welfare and I have experienced the worst. There is a lot of work to be done in Child Welfare and when everyone doesn’t “dot their i’s and cross their t’s” this is what happens. Tariji Changed Me and I hope that her story will change others.” Penny Jones