Vicki Rhodes, whose 41-year-old daughter, Teri, died of a drug overdose in 2015, organized a local observance of Black Balloon Day in Greencastle and Mercersburg "to say my child matters, to remember her, to increase drug overdose awareness and to decrease the stigma of addiction."

As she prepared to tie black balloons to the parking meters around Center Square in Greencastle Tuesday morning, she was joined by Mike Straley, who came for a bundle of balloons to place at his home. He and his wife, Robin, lost their daughter, Leah, on Valentine's Day. She was 26.

"I'm here to support Leah," Straley said. "When I saw the story, 'I said I need to do this for my daughter.'"

He also was there to support Rhodes and commented on how similar their stories are.

The young women, both graduates of Greencastle-Antrim High School, struggled with addiction and fought for sobriety for years. Rhodes remembers her daughter for her wit and intelligence. Straley remembers his daughter for her kindness, caring and a smile that would light up a room.

About Leah 

Leah's battle with drug abuse began in high school. She would do well for periods, attending college and hoping to become a drug counselor. Then she would hit triggers like old friends or trying circumstances.

"She would do well, then she'd relapse, do well and relapse," her father said. "This quaint little community has problems like any other community. This needs to be a wakeup call for everyone out there. It's here and it hits home."

Leah loved life, her family and her puppy dog, Iszabella, a high school graduation gift in 2010. She had a way with others, taking them under her wing.

"Addiction is filled with pain, suffering and sorrow, leaving you powerless to its grip, its hold, ripping your loved one apart and your family apart," Mike and Robin Straley wrote in an email. "We, as parents, can only witness the torment and hell that Leah went through and put our family through. We never experienced or witnessed the beauty and impact our daughter had on so many in her sobriety journey. She was beautiful, kind and loving, putting others before herself and tried her best to be brave and conquer this horrible disease. Yes, a disease because it ate and worked against our daughter's brain and mental well-being for 10 years. Leah never wanted this for herself. She never wanted to put us through this. She wanted to help people and help she did. Our daughter was beautiful, but her true beauty was when she was in recovery helping those just like herself — offering a welcoming smile, open arms and unconditional love that put so many at ease."

A friend from a sober living facility in California recalled, "If it wasn't for Leah, I wouldn't be where I am today. There were countless times I wanted to leave and just give up, but Leah was always there to guide me back and help me through some of the most difficult times of my life. So I give a lot of the credit of the foundation of my recovery to your daughter, Leah, and God. God presented an angel in my life to help me stay and begin believing in myself and create a life for myself."

Mike Straley said picking up the black balloons was part of their grieving process and they are also in touch with G.R.A.S.P., Grief Recovery After Substance Passing based in Waynesboro, as well as Brooke's House. Other parents who lost a child are building Brooke's House, a sober home for women, on Downsville Pike, Hagerstown, and there will be a room named for Leah, decorated with her favorites purple and leopard print.

 Black Balloon Day 

Rhodes, accompanied Tuesday by her husband, Carrol, said she was amazed at the response after stories about Black Balloon Day appeared in local newspapers.

She was helped in Mercersburg by Carol Ralston and Bonnie Rockwell, friends from their nursing days at Chambersburg Hospital, and in Greencastle by family friend Katie Barnhart.

"I want people not to be ashamed about it. People are too embarrassed to say it. If we don't talk about it, people don't realize the devastation in our community," said Rhodes, who is already looking ahead to next year's Black Balloon Day.

For more information, contact her at