CHOCTAW, Okla. (KFOR) – Seven years after the loss of a dear friend, a group of local high school seniors are off to college with a little heavenly help.

After losing their 10-year-old daughter, a Choctaw family made it their mission to keep her giving spirit alive by helping the friends and community she loved so dearly.

“She was one of those children that when you have them, they make you just want to have ten more,” said Lanaye’s mother, Dyanna Johnston. 

In her only decade on this earth, Lanaye left a lasting impact on everyone who knew her.

“She was really outgoing and bubbly,” said Lanaye’s friend, Allison Bradfield. “I remember she convinced me to sing in the fourth grade talent show, and I’m not a singer, but it was really fun.”

Lanaye (center) smiles with fellow cheerleaders

Lanaye loved being a part of the 5th grade cheer team in Choctaw.

“I remember that she just loved cheerleading, and she just loved being around everyone,” said Lanaye’s teammate Avery Crosby. 

But on January 25th, 2015 – the Johnston family and Lanaye’s beloved teammates were rocked by tragedy.

“She did pass away unexpectedly,” Dyanna said. “She’d had a short stint with a mild illness. We didn’t figure out until after her passing that it was due to a heart condition. She had been healthy up until that point.”

“We all kind of just went through it together,” said Crosby. “It was easier to have each other during that time.”

Seven years later, that fifth grade cheer team is all grown up but has remained close with Lanaye’s mother.

Senior girls pose with Lanaye’s mother, Dyanna

“One of the biggest fears is, you know, you never want your child to be forgotten,” Dyanna said. “These girls, our family, community has never even let that into their minds.”

The year after she passed, the Johnston family started a foundation in Lanaye’s honor to help graduating seniors.

Through fundraisers like bracelet sales, they’ve raised thousands of dollars.

Now, as these girls head off to college, they’ll be doing so with a little help from their guardian angel.

Senior Choctaw Yellowjackets pose with memorial chair for Lanaye

“I can speak for a lot of us being very thankful that the Johnston family was nice enough to give back to us through everything that they’ve gone through,” said Lanaye’s friend, Bri Armstrong. 

Lanaye’s mom says it’s exactly what she would have wanted.

“She really had a giving heart and always wanted to please others,” Dyanna said. “By the grace of God and our friends and family we’re still here able to celebrate her.”

If you’d like to help support the Lanaye Johnston Building Our Future Foundation, visit their Facebook page