NEWS

Leah’s Legacy adds gathering place, bake shop to help women in recovery

Shawn Hardy
Echo Pilot

As the footprint of Leah’s Legacy Foundation continues to grow, Mike and Robin Straley never lose sight of their mission. They offer love, hope and support to women in recovery in memory of their 26-year-old daughter, Leah, who they lost to a fentanyl overdose on Valentine's Day in 2018.

Now Leah’s Gathering Place, a home on Grant Shook Road just outside of Greencastle, is providing them with a venue to expand their outreach — from a resident in recovery to a grief support group to sugar cookies.

Mike and Robin Straley are shown on the porch of Leah’s Gathering Place on Grant Shook Road, Greencastle, where they are creating ways to help women recovering from addiction and offer a support group for grieving families in memory of their daughter, Leah, who died in 2018.

It’s next door to Leah's Legacy Operations Center, where Leah’s Legacy bags for women in recovery are packed, and down the hill from where Fiddlin in the Field, the biggest fundraiser for Leah’s Legacy Foundation will be held in June.

Written by Mike Straley:A daughter's overdose death leads to 'The CALLing'

Full of hope and necessities:Leah's Legacy Operations Center provides bags of hope for women in recovery

The home’s location is no coincidence. It’s where Mike’s late aunt and uncle, Betty and Richard Goetz, lived and it became available to the foundation following her sudden death last summer. It’s two doors down from where Mike and Robin’s house and next to his parents, Mary and Richard Straley.

A home becomes a gathering place

Because of its proximity, Mike talked to his cousin, Ron Goetz, last spring about the foundation one day acquiring the house.

“My ultimate goal was to have this property. I didn’t know it would happen so fast. I thought we had years, not months,” he recalled. His aunt died in July 2021, the foundation took ownership on Nov. 1.

The house that is now Leah’s Gathering Place was owned by the late Betty and Richard Goetz. Their photo is displayed in the living room.

The Straleys had to quickly find direction for the home and settled on one house guest, who is instrumental in the work of the gathering place.

Jen Diamond battled opioid addiction most of her adult life and is four years sober.

“Recovery is not about treatment,” Diamond said. “It’s about your life after treatment … replacing drugs and alcohol with something better.”

She was a house manager at Gracie’s Place, a sober living home in Chambersburg, for three years, until it was time for her to get out on her own. She now works at Gaudenzia, an outpatient treatment center in McConnellsburg as an administrative assistant and certified recovery specialist.

Leah Straley

She’s gotten to know the Straleys through their presentations and recovery events over the years and said they are a godsend.

She sees the house living up to its name as a gathering place for women.

“I want them to know recovery is a lifestyle. You can have fun sober,” Diamond said. “My vision is to see people just gathering here … going outside, cooking, forming bonds close to home to replace people, places and things that got them in trouble.”

One aim is for Leah’s Gathering Place to host life skills sessions. Robin envisions women learning how to make a meal like meatloaf and scalloped potatoes from scratch “so they’re not eating out of a box all the time.”

“At the end, they can break bread together and enjoy the fruits of their labor,” Mike said, adding housecleaning and finances are other possibilities. He said some people in sober living don’t have these basic skills most people take for granted.

The Straleys and Diamond also want to help families, whether they’ve lost a loved one to addiction or have a loved one with an active addiction.

Mike Straley, with a photo of his daughter, Leah, in the foreground, is shown in the living room of Leah’s Gathering Place.

A grief support group started meeting at Leah’s Gathering Place in April. Meetings at held at 7 p.m. the second Monday of each month. Space is limited and those who would like to attend must reserve a seat in advance at 717-552-8885 or at MLStraley81@gmail.com

A facilitator and peer support for the meeting are from the Drew Michael Taylor Foundation. Like Leah’s Legacy Foundation, the Drew Michael Taylor Foundation was created by grieving parents. Randy and Marcie Taylor lost their 3-year-old son in a traffic accident in 2006. Based in Shippensburg, it helps individuals and families grieving the loss of a loved one, with special programs for children and teens.

“We just want to create avenues for families, but first do the research to make sure we do it right,” Robin said. “We continue to plug away, tweak and adjust.”

Baking and fiddlin

Robin also did her research for another facet of her daughter’s legacy, Leah’s Cookie Bite Bake Shop, where she specializes in sugar cookies.

Jen Diamond and Robin Straley are shown with Easter cookies from Leah’s Cookie Bite Bake Shop in Leah’s Gathering Place on Grant Shook Road, Greencastle.

“It's funny. Growing up, I always hated rolling out sugar cookies, but over time always wanted to learn the proper techniques,” she said. “I've had plenty of failures, but thought that decorated sugar cookies were unique and would be a profitable social enterprise for Leah's Legacy. And now I love rolling sugar cookies.”

She watched a lot of YouTube videos, attended an online cookie camp and belongs to several Facebook groups for “cookiers.”

The mini-bakery sold its first sweets at Christmas 2021 — 850 decorated sugar cookies, 900 regular cookies and 16 cakes.

The cookies are decorated to match holidays, such as hearts for Valentine’s Day and eggs, bunnies and carrots for Easter. The shop is usually open on the Saturday before a holiday and people can follow Leah’s Cookie Bite Bake Shop on Facebook for up-to-date information.

Baked goods from Leah’s Cookie Bite Bake Shop also will be available the second annual Fiddlin in the Field beginning at 6 p.m. Thursday, June 23, at 10437 Grand Shook Road, Greencastle.

The biggest fundraiser for Leah’s Legacy Foundation, it feature the Robert Mabe Band, a silent auction and Lizzy’s Food Truck. Vluegrass icon Danny Paisley and his band Southern Grass had been scheduled, but had to cancel due to illness.

Mike noted the auction includes “really neat” items, such as two tickets and pit passes to any NASCAR race after July 1 from champion Kyle Larson; gift baskets; and a bus trip to Sight and Sound.

Leah's Legacy bags contain toiletries, snacks, warm gloves, scarf and socks, a journal and other items.

All the money from Leah’s Cookie Bite Bake Shop and Fiddlin in the Field goes back to the work of the foundation, which includes Leah’s Legacy bags.

The bedrock of Leah’s Legacy they provide cheer, love and necessities to women to women in sober living homes by way of purple bags — Leah’s favorite color — filled with 40 items from hairbrushes to snacks, word puzzles and pens to socks and deodorant to seasonal items like sunblock, winter hats and umbrellas.

Although slowed by COVID-19, the Straleys have distributed about 400 bags in sober living homes since the year their daughter died. They also share their story as grieving parents and the love and hope they have for each resident.

Mike also is the author of “The CALLing,” a book about Leah's struggle with addiction, the grief of losing a child and what he and his wife Robin are doing to help women in recovery.

More information about Leah’s Legacy Foundation, including tickets for Fiddlin in the Field, can be found at www.leahslegacy.net

Shawn Hardy is a reporter with Gannett's Franklin County newspapers in south-central Pennsylvania — the Echo Pilot in Greencastle, The Record Herald in Waynesboro and the Public Opinion in Chambersburg. She has more than 35 years of journalism experience. Reach her at shardy@gannett.com