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Why a Forsyth County company gave this family a new vehicle
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Operation 21 owner Brian DeBlois presents Janet Poor, and her daughter, Renita, a new car on Saturday, May 30, 2020. Renita was hit by a drunk driver 23 years ago and suffered a permanent brain injury. She now shares their experiences with those taking courses offered by Operation 21, which provides a variety of public safety programs, including courses on Georgia laws, gun safety and certification for alcohol serving license. - photo by Ben Hendren

For more than a decade, Janet Poor and her daughter, Renita, who was hit by a drunk driver 23 years ago and suffered a permanent brain injury, have shared their experiences with those taking courses offered by Operation 21, a local company that provides a variety of public safety programs, including courses on Georgia laws, gun safety and certification for alcohol serving license.

After leaving their mark on so many, some have decided to give back to the family.

On Saturday, Operation 21 owner Brian DeBlois and others came together during a course to give the family a 2007 Ford Escape, which was needed after their previous car developed a gas leak.

“I just know that there are some very good people in the world who are there to come together and to help someone else,” Janet said. “That, to me, is a beautiful gift that people can give.”

DeBlois and his wife, Anna, spearheaded the project, but they weren't the only ones involved. Ray Kelly, who Brian has known since they served in the military together, donated the car, a local nonprofit church group helped with the changeover and BookLogix, a local company that has helped Operation 21 host meetings, is providing cards for two months of free gas.

“That just blew my mind away,” Janet said. “Then we went and looked at the car and everything, and it is absolutely beautiful.”

DeBlois said it was a pretty emotional event for all involved.

“Everybody was completely overwhelmed,” Brian DeBlois said. “Just the response [from the family], and I think she probably told me four or five different times throughout the day and called me back and all just thanking us again and saying that no one had ever shown that much kindness to do something like that to better her and her daughter, so she was just completely overwhelmed, overtaken by the moment.”

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Anna said she first noticed the family vehicle issue when Janet and Renita were speaking at a class held at Georgia State University and they had a hard time finding a nearby handicap parking spot. After the class, Anna went to get the car for them and noticed it had “a horrific gasoline smell to it.”

“And I said, 'Janet, are you seriously driving this car? What is going on with this car?' and apparently it had some kind of gas leak,” she said. “She kept telling me, 'Well, you know, it's OK, I have to drive around with the windows down because if I don't then it makes me kind of want to pass out.' I was like, this is not safe and this is not OK.”

Janet said the family, who are on a fixed income, had recently fixed some other issues with the car but could not afford to fix the gas leak.

“I worry about my daughter because of the fact that she has a brain injury and the smell that was coming in,” Janet said. “I would always have to open a window in the car.”

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Along with fixing the smell, Janet said the vehicle’s 62,000 miles are much lower than what she is used to.

“To me, that's good because all the other cars I've ever got had close to 200,000, so this one to me is like a brand-new car,” she said.

For 12 years, Janet and Renita have spoken at meetings for Operation 21 to tell their story.

More than 20 years ago while a student in college, Renita was struck by a drunk driver, leaving her with a brain injury that does not allow her to retain short-term memories for more than five minutes.

“While her long-term memory wasn't affected -- she remembers how life was prior to the accident -- she can't remember anything after that fact longer than five minutes,” DeBlois said. “So, if you introduce yourself, five minutes into the conversation she's going to be like, 'What's your name?'”

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Janet Poor reacts after being gifted a new car by Brian DeBlois, owner of Operation 21, on Saturday, May 30, 2020. Poor's daughter, Renita, was hit by a drunk driver 23 years ago and suffered a permanent brain injury. She now shares her experience with those taking courses offered by Operation 21, which provides a variety of public safety programs, including courses on Georgia laws, gun safety and certification for alcohol serving license. - photo by Ben Hendren

DeBlois said their portion of the course, the victim impact session, is one of the most powerful, showing the unintended consequences of people's actions, and he has been told years after by individuals who took the class how impactful it had been.

“The victim impact, which is Ms. Janet and Renita Poor, basically shows the premise of what a single bad choice or decision, what the ramification can be on others and the continued ripple effect it can have on someone's life,” DeBlois said.

DeBlois says Operation 21 has the highest success rate for pretrial diversion programs in the state, with 96.7% of participants staying out of trouble following the program.

“We really think Janet and Retina are very instrumental in making that such a high success rate,” DeBlois said.