Danny Bane strolled around the gym, the flickering light from eight high-def Xbox screens illuminating his face. He peeked over the shoulders of teenage boys leaning forward on metal folding chairs playing Portal, Rock Band 2 and Halo 3 with gusto.
He stopped to kick a hacky sack with several other boys and then helped a group of girls order pizza. From upstairs wafted the sound of “The Blind Side.”
Bane leads a group of at-risk kids called Lost & Found Youth Outreach. The group, sponsored by the Cornerstone Community Church, started with 40 kids seven years ago and now has more than 200.
Bane knows these kids almost better than they know themselves. He’s sunk lower than most of them will ever fall.
As a teenager, he grew up in a dysfunctional family. He fell into drugs, made gang connections and ended up in prison after nearly killing a man.
Thirteen years ago, he walked out of the Walla Walla Penitentiary with no high school degree, no tangible skills and resume full of failure — but determined not to go back to that life.
In the years since, he leaned on several mentors who modeled a healthier lifestyle and ignited him spiritually.
Bane, since he had painting experience in prison, set his eye on a Pendleton painting company called A Sharp Painters. The owner, Randy Thomas, heard about Bane and thought about the unmotivated inmates he’d seen as a volunteer overseeing a prison painting crew.
“To myself, I said, ‘Absolutely not,” Thomas recalls.
Then Thomas hired Bane’s older brother who enlisted Bane’s help to paint the backsides of some Power Vision Mirrors.
“One day, Randy came in the shop and stopped at the mirrors,” Bane said. “He asked, ‘Who painted these mirrors?’”
Bane lifted a hand. Thomas offered Bane some work.
“He was an amazing worker,” Thomas said. “He was very detailed.”
Thomas and others worked alongside Bane as A Sharp Painters painted the Red Lion one August. Bane soaked in their work ethic.
“These were a bunch of Christian guys. They were level-headed, caring family men,” Bane said. “I longed for that.”
Still tempted by elements of his old life, he realized he had reached a fork in the road.
“A life of misery or a new life with these guys,” Bane said. He chose the new life and forged ahead one day at a time.
Bane also drew on a relationship with one of his mom’s ex-husbands, Del Wachter. As a boy, Bane had escaped to Wachter’s for months at a time.
“He’s an old mechanic with a huge heart,” Bane said. “He was my protector, my refuge from my mom’s world.”
Wachter offer continued support as Bane tried to better his life.
His heart continued to ache for family members still caught in unhealthy lifestyles. A niece and nephew died within weeks of each other, her from exposure and him from suicide.
After several years as a painter, Bane began working as a drug and alcohol skills trainer for the county and later trained as a drug and alcohol counselor.
Seven years ago, he and Arron Swenson, pastor of Cornerstone Community Church, dreamed up Lost & Found Youth Outreach.
Swenson said he watched with amazement as Bane conquered his demons, then entered the world of “extreme mentoring.”
“He one of those guys who defy all the odds,” Swenson said. “He’s been an agent of change for so many — it’s been humbling and kind of an honor to work with him.”
The program focuses on relationships, cognitive development and meeting basic needs. The teens do regular public service projects and burn remaining energy with paintball, whitewater rafting, snowboarding, BMX bikes or other activities.
“When they’re ready to make the jump from behavior that’s hurting them,” Bane said, “we’re trying to be the bridge they need to get there.”
In addition to his Lost & Found kids, Bane and his wife Sarah have three children — Hannah, 5, Zaanan, 7, and Isabelle, 9 months.
This story was originally published in April of 2010.