Headlines – 10/26/2004

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Panolian Headlines: October 26, 2004

For complete stories, pick up the 10/26/04  issue of The Panolian
Covenant Bank Opens in Batesville
LaVergne to Lead Branch
The City of Batesville recently held a groundbreaking ceremony for the future home of Covenant Bank. Present for the ceremony were (l to r) Mayor Bobby Baker, Alderman Rufus Manley, Rep. Leonard Morris, Alderman Hudson Still, Covenant Bank Senior Vice-president David LaVergne, Covenant Bank President Willis Frazer, Panola County Supervisor Jerry Perkins, Alderwoman Bobbie Jean Pounders and Panola Partnership CEO Blair Jernigan.
By Jason C. Mattox
News Editor


A new bank has a temporary home in Batesville while its permanent site is under construction.

Covenant Bank announced Wednesday, Oct. 13, that its first home in Batesville would be located in the Eagle Crest shopping center on Highway 6 East.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Several bank representatives and local officials broke ground on the new facility that is being constructed near Wal-Mart and the BP station.

Longtime banker and Panola County resident David LaVergne has joined the Covenant Bank staff as its Senior Vice-president.

"There are a lot of good people in the Panola County banking community, many of whom are my dear friends," LaVergne said in a press release. "However, when I visited Covenant Bank and saw how the staff laughed and was relaxed while they were truly trying to help people, I knew I wanted to be a part of establishing that type of bank in Batesville and Panola County."

Covenant Bank opened three banks simultaneously in Clarksdale, Tunica and Robinsonville during 2000. The bank’s philosophy and method of operating was warmly received, allowing the three banks to exceed projections.

Today Covenant Bank is a $150 million bank with total deposits of over $100 million.
"We have been successful," LaVergne said. "But neither Willis Frazer, the CEO, the staff, nor I can take much credit for it.

"We are all blessed with family and friends who taught us how to trust people by their example to us," he said. "We simply use that as our philosophy in banking and are excited about becoming part of the great community here."

Covenant Bank President Freddie Britt said Covenant Bank was started because they wanted to serve people with respect rather than just say it.

City Hears of Med WINGS
By Jason C. Mattox
News Editor


The City of Batesville was thanked for its continuing support of the Regional Medical Center (the Med) in Memphis.

"All of you know how important good trauma care is," Flo Larson told Mayor Bobby Baker and the Board of Aldermen.

Larson appeared before the board on behalf of North Mississippi’s Friends of the Med to offer city leaders more information on just what The Med and its WINGS unit offers to the people of Batesville and Panola County.

"You guys have always been supporters of what we have done, and we certainly appreciate that," Larson said.

Larson turned the meeting over to Med WINGS representative Allen Burnett to offer more information about the programs and services offered at the Med.

"First let me say that this part of North Mississippi is very important to us," he said. "Approximately 50 percent of our use is coming from this area."

Burnett said the WINGS unit was formed in 1986 as a non-profit to help out with providing emergency trauma care to the Memphis and North Mississippi area.

"We have a service area of 150 miles out of Memphis," he said.

The Memphis WINGS base keeps two units at all times with one unit in Brownsville, Tenn.

"This area is a big part of making this program a success and it is important to us to know that we are handling your calls as well as possible," he said.

Alderwoman Bobbie Jean Pounders asked whether or not the city had to pay a subscription fee for the service and wanted to know response time from Memphis to Batesville.

"The city does not have to pay a subscription fee or anything of the sort for the services we provide with the WINGS unit," he said. "As for response time, we can be in Batesville in 24 minutes.

"We do not make a decision on a person’s ability to pay," he said.

Burnett explained that the patient is billed for services.

"If they have the ability to pay, we try to get what we can to help offset the expenses," he said.

Burnett said the WINGS unit is also using the new polyhem blood substitute when it is needed.

"We always have two critical care nurses on each flight, so there is always a qualified medical professional with us in transport," Burnett said. "The use of the new polyhem is something we are very proud to have been selected for, and those nurses know the proper times to use the substitute blood."

The Med is only one of four trauma centers in the United States chosen to take part in the polyhem trials.

Baker and the aldermen thanked Larson and Burnett for the information and said they have been very happy with the service provided by the Med and its WINGS unit.

"Numerous times, we would have lost people had it not been for the rapid response of these people and the tremendous services they provide," Police Chief Roger Vanlandingham said.

Russell Family Opens Heart
    to Special Needs Children
Not quite a family photo – since the identity of the seven-year-old foster daughter held in Sheila‘s arms must still be protected – but close, family friend and volunteer helper Sarah Jenkins joins the Russells around Christina.
By Jason C. Mattox
News Editor


Don’t tell Sheila Russell she can’t.

As in "You can’t handle two in a wheelchair."

Because the petite brunette?who lives with her husband, Tommy, on Yalobusha County Road 106 near the Water Valley airport?is going to.

The Russells are in the process now of adopting a seven-year-old girl. That’s not unusual, except this little girl has special needs. Her development has been impaired by what tests are expected to confirm is Rett’s Syndrome, a rare developmental disorder which begins in early infancy, primarily in girls.

Adopting a child with special needs is unusual. Even more rare is that this seven-year-old, who has now been in their home as a foster child for about six weeks, will become a sister to Christina, 14, whom the Russells adopted one year ago. Christina also has special needs. Hers stem from Cerebral Palsy. The idea of adopting a second child with special needs, including wheelchair transportation, is what brought on the latest chorus of "you can’ts."

"If God gives her to me, then God will supply my needs to take care of her," Sheila replies.

Currently, those needs make a lengthy list, including a van with space and lifting equipment to handle the girls’ wheelchairs.

"We want to do a north Mississippi ?Extreme Home Makeover,’" Tommy Russell laughed. Construction is underway to remodel their home’s carport into a wheelchair-accessible wing with bedrooms and bathroom that allow sufficient room to maneuver.

James Bennett of the Valley Good Sams was among those helping with that carport remodeling last week. Other projects the Sams help with include raising money for the Baptist Children’s Village at Reedy Acres, he said. "We just decided to help this family," Bennett added.

That afternoon, Bennett had jack-hammered through carport concrete to open a path for a trench which will carry the bathroom plumbing. As Bennett stopped to evaluate the most recent step toward remodeling completion, he identified the craftsmen, tools and items badly needed to make complete the "extreme makeover."

"Bricklayer, carpenter and laborer, …we need some newer dry wall tools. And a septic tank," Bennett said.

Another friend, Paul E. Griffin of Batesville, who worships with the Russells at the Hosanna Family Worship Center at Pope, said "they still need another $7,000 to $8,000 of materials in addition to the labor" to complete the wheelchair-accessible remodeling.

Once the old carport has been converted into bedroom and bathrooms, the Russells will need a covered area behind the old carport where the girls can be loaded into the van?that van that they don’t have yet.

There’s also a need for a covered walkway at their house’s front entrance. Then the Russells wouldn’t have to struggle with pushing those wheelchairs for 50 yards up the gravel driveway to reach the school bus.

The needs of Christina and her sister?who must remain unnamed until the adoption process is complete?are so many. But Sheila and Tommy Russell have already supplied the love of a mother and father and a home, something that once would have been thought impossible for these girls to realize.

"Her mother OD’d on heroin," Sheila said of Christina. "She had no place really to go back to; it was either in an institution or nowhere," Sheila said.

It’s difficult to pinpoint the beginning of the circumstances that brought Sheila and Tommy together with Christina. Back in the 1990s, they were the owners of "Wonder Years," a thriving day care business located next to Batesville’s Panola Mills, then the county’s largest employer. They cared for up to 125 children while their parents worked.

Even then, an old friend recalled, Sheila could spot some child in need of special attention, including one little girl whose unkempt appearance and matted hair led Sheila to take her home with her to spend the night. There the little girl was the object of lavish attention and bubble baths, the friend recalled.

After Panola Mills went south, the Russells bought Dusty’s Donuts, a bakery in Batesville. To her delight, many of Sheila’s former charges discovered her there when they came for donuts. After two years in the bakery business, where, "You can sell a million donuts, but you only make a penny a donut," Sheila laughed; the Russells made a drastic change. They moved to the Baptist Children’s Village at Reedy Acres in Water Valley.

"We had put in application to become house parents, so we just sold everything we had."

Sheila didn’t take to house parenting. "Tommy loved it; I didn’t like group living," she said. But on Water Valley, they could both agree: "We just loved the way it looked."

But when they left the village, three kids wanted to come with them, so Tommy and Sheila got approved as foster parents, a process that includes training from the Department of Human Services and other entities and extensive background checks.

Providing foster care for those children led to other children. "I bet we’ve had 50 kids," she said. Eventually the Russells upgraded their certification as foster parents from "emergency," meaning that they provided refuge on an immediate basis when human services personnel removed a child from threatening circumstances, to "therapeutic." That meant they were approved to care for children with special needs.

That’s how they met Christina. She was 10 years old and weighed 26 pounds when Sheila and Tommy met Christina. The tiny girl had been wasting away in a Pascagoula nursing home. "I didn’t figure she’d live until she got home," she said.

At first Sheila fed her with a dropper, "like a little bird." There were surgeries to loosen Christina’s limbs. "Somebody had whipped her and her hip was out of joint," Sheila said.

"She started responding to us," Christina’s adoptive mother continued. "She’s just blossomed."

The little girl’s bloom was no doubt enhanced by Sheila’s determination that Cerebral Palsy not sideline Christina. She can’t walk; she can’t talk, but her last three birthdays have been celebrated with skating parties, her mother said. Her skating friends pull her across the floor in her wheelchair, she added. "She loved it."

The outings are mutually beneficial, Sheila said. "Kids don’t know how to deal with special needs kids."

"You don’t realize how much they get neglected," Sheila continued, describing her increasing advocacy for creating access for people with special needs in schools, parks and public places. "I probably didn’t notice it until it affected my life," Sheila admits.

But affect her life it did, and when the Russells found the little blonde seven-year-old in a facility in Booneville, "they said she never responded to anybody," Sheila said.

The little girl was lying on the floor, seemingly oblivious to anyone, her would-be adoptive mother said. After visiting with her about an hour, Sheila said that she picked her up and asked: " ___________, do you want to go home with me?"

When the little girl smiled, astonished facility staff marveled, and Sheila told her husband, "Tommy, she’s mine."

Now, after two months in the Russell home, the responses are continuous to Sheila, Tommy, Christina, and a young friend, Sarah Jenkins, who often helps the Russells with the girls’ care, and others.

Still, completing the adoption of the little girl is seven months away and not certain, but completing the accessible addition will help demonstrate the Russells’ physical ability to care for the girls.

Amid laughter, hugs and typical family pandemonium in their Yalobusha home, there is already much evidence of the Russells’ ability to care for them emotionally.

So just don’t tell Sheila Russell she can’t.