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Leah's Legacy Operations Center provides bags of hope for women in recovery

Shawn Hardy
Echo Pilot
Robin and Susan Cox of Allentown helped Katha Baer of Mercersburg, with grandson Lawson Leasure, 3, fill a Leah's Legacy bag with items for women in recovery homes and support groups.

Just months before she died of a fentanyl overdose, Leah Straley called her parents from a sober living home and excitedly told them about the Christmas gift bag she received from a church group.

It contained a purse loaded with toiletries and other personal care items, gift cards, winter gloves, hat, scarf and more.

Leah Straley is remembered with signs, plaques and a memorial garden at the Leah's Legacy Operations Center.

The 26-year-old died on Valentine's Day, Feb. 14, 2018, and in her memory, her parents, Mike and Robin Straley, recreated that Christmas experience with Leah's Legacy Bags.

The purple bags — Leah's favorite color — are filled with personal care items, pens and notebooks, snacks, socks and other items and are intended to provide hope, joy and love to women in sober living homes and support groups.

The supplies previously were shoehorned in the Straleys' Grant Shook Road home near Greencastle, and hauled out to fill bags assembly-line style in their garage.

Recently, an open house was held at the new Leah's Legacy Operations Center, located behind the home of her grandparents, Mary and Richard Straley, and next door to her parents' home.

Mary Straley stands in Leahbug's Garden, planted in memory of her granddaughter, Leah Straley.

"It's been a blessing," Mike Straley said as he explained how quickly everything came together — including Leahbug's Memorial Garden — after ground was broken for the building on June 4. All the costs have been covered by donations.

"There's a joy in knowing that we're creating something she would absolutely love," he said with emotion, explaining his daughter was known for taking other women under her wing in recovery.

"I'm thinking she's here with me today. She's thinking, 'Oh my God, what are you doing? You're helping so many by telling them about me and my struggles,'" Robin Straley said, explaining many women reached out to her after Leah's passing to share how she helped them.

"It encouraged us to keep reaching out to women in recovery," she said. "It hits home when they hear about a family who lost someone to addiction."

Leah Straley's mother, Robin, gave gift bags to family and friends at the Leah's Legacy Operations Center open house.

Others affected by addiction were among the family, friends and colleagues on hand for the open house.

Robin and Susan Cox have been friends with the Straleys since they met at a family education weekend when their son, Jeremy, and Leah were in the same rehab facility.

"This is a great thing they're doing. They wanted us to be here and we wouldn't miss it for the world," Robin Cox said.

Their son, now 26, still struggles, but "we feel good about where he is at."

They helped visitors fill Leah's Legacy bags from bins loaded with supplies on tables in the operations center.

Katha Baer of Mercersburg carried her 3-year-old grandson, Lawson Leasure, while she filled a bag.

She and Robin Straley went to church together when they were younger and have both suffered loss to addiction.

Baer's stepgrandson's father died of an overdose when the boy was 12.

"How do you explain it to a 12-year-old?" asked Baer, who also is involved in Black Balloon Day, when those lost to addiction are remembered, and overdose awareness events.

"You hear more and more about it every day. It affects more people than you think," Baer said.

More:THE MAYOR'S SPECIAL REPORT

The Rev. Tim Fisher, the Straleys' pastor at Covenant Life Church in Hagerstown, said he felt sympathy and comforted the Straleys after Leah's death, but "I felt the Lord had something for them to do." He said he's seen them turn grief and pain into something positive, with the community rallying around them.

A sign in Leahburg's Garden at Leah's Legacy Operations Center.

Fisher is chairman of the board of Leah's Legacy, a 501c3 tax-exempt organization. More information is available at:

https://leahslegacy.net

The Straleys also are available to speak to churches and community organizations and can be reached at 717-552-8885.