Woman overcomes tumultuous past after finding a new family in Wallingford

Woman overcomes tumultuous past after finding a new family in Wallingford


WALLINGFORD — Before graduating from Lyman Hall High School last month, Tabitha Valentino had to overcome an abusive upbringing as an adopted child. In Wallingford, she found her new family and a new life, and isn’t looking back.

“My past is behind me,” she said. “Now I’m going to college, I have all these credits, I have a good family. This is just me. I shouldn’t have to feel ashamed of that.”

Valentino, who will attend UConn’s Waterbury campus this fall, said before she found her new family in Wallingford, “I had no childhood.”

Valentino was put up for adoption at 7 months old by her biological mother, who battled drug addiction and lived in Maryland at the time. Valentino and her two half-siblings were adopted by Peter and Tamara Gable, a Middlefield couple who were arrested in 2012 for abusing her and their other adopted children.

“There is no way you could just forget the screaming,” Valentino said. “It was just so sad.”

Peter and Tamara Gable could not be reached for comment.

In 2013, the couple was found guilty of three counts of reckless endangerment, according to court records. Both were sentenced to a one year suspended prison sentence. They were each placed on two years probation with special conditions. A standing criminal protective order was put in place until 2099.

Valentino said she was fed a diet of primarily oatmeal. When the Gables wanted to punish their adopted children, they mixed ill-tasting additives like hot sauce or toothpaste into the oatmeal. The parents also forced them to write religious phrases more than 2,000 times while locked in a room as punishment.

“I always wondered why would you adopt us if you were going to treat us like this?” she said.

Tamara Gable told police she and Peter Gable “felt overwhelmed” by the needs of the adopted children, the Middletown Press previously reported, citing a police report. Tamara Gable told authorities she and her husband took on too much, but that they never reached out to the state Department of Children and Families for help.

After leaving the Gables’ custody, Valentino briefly stayed with her adopted sister in Meriden and foster parents in Waterbury. She found a permanent home in 2014, when she was taken in by Richard and Lucy Valentino, a Wallingford couple that has fostered several children over 20 years.

As soon as she walked into the couple’s home on Smoke Rise Road, she says she knew she had found her family.

“Once I walked in that door, I remember it so clearly. You could smell the pasta. It was so warm, so welcoming,” Valentino said. “I knew this was where I wanted to be.”

Valentino said her life began to turn around while under the care of her new parents. She attended Lyman Hall for four years and spent her summers earning college credits as part of a program that DCF runs for foster children.

“Tabby took all the advantages that we provided for her and she just took off with it, which a lot of the foster kids that I had didn’t,” Lucy Valentino said.

“My mom keeps telling me, ‘The one thing people can’t take away from you is your education, so you focus on that,’” Tabitha Valentino said.

At Lyman Hall, Valentino had teachers that helped her overcome her past.

“I actually had really good teachers at Lyman Hall who supported me and would always push me,” she said. “I had teachers in school who knew everything and always had my back.”

Valentino decided to change her last name from Gable earlier this year, and in June, the change was approved just in time for her to put it on her high school diploma.

“It was the very last day to change anything on your diploma and that’s when my last name went through, so it was meant to be,” she said.

She considers the Valentinos her permanent family, but does not want to be officially adopted because “I was adopted once and it didn’t go well.”

Valentino said therapy she has received for post-traumatic stress disorder has helped her overcome her emotional trauma, and she also continues to get support from a former mentor she met through the YMCA. Valentino said she likes to be open about her past because it helps her heal.

“People know everything because I don’t care. I’m an open book because I have nothing to hide. Bottling it up just makes you want to close down completely,” Valentino said.

Gary Kleeblatt, spokesman for DCF, called Valentino an “inspiring example of how resilient our children can be.”

“Being in foster care is a difficult journey, and foster children deserve all the help we can afford to provide,” he said.

Valentino will begin at UConn in Waterbury this fall with 12 college credits. She plans to eventually transfer to the Storrs campus to complete a degree in early education with the goal of becoming a teacher.

mzabierek@record-journal.com 203-317-2279 Twitter: @MatthewZabierek

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