Not far from the Elizabeth Bridge on the east bank of the Monongahela River, a 12 year old girl named Renah Kozemchak is spreading a message of love to a group of people who so badly need it. They are men and women and teenagers addicted to heroin. People who've stolen from their loved ones. Who've abandoned their families. They've lost their jobs and their homes and their dignity. And far too many have lost their lives. Including Renah's uncle, Mike Cameron.
Renah tells me heroin addiction runs strong in her family. Her mother conservatively puts the number at 12 when I ask how many of her loved ones either use or are addicted to heroin. Think of your family and imagine that. TWELVE. After burying her uncle – an Elizabeth-Forward High School graduate who'd turned 21 just nine months before he was found dead at a rehab facility – Renah started something remarkable. A mission of mercy that offers love and support directly to addicts. Renah calls it "Operation Recovery Compassion." And she spreads her message simply... by handing out Hope In A Bag.
Renah and her army of volunteers – from friends and family members to classmates and neighbors – collect toiletries from local community groups, schools, fire halls and small businesses. Toothbrushes and shampoo. Soap and deodorant and dental floss. Razors and sewing kits and snacks. Playing cards and magazines. Feminine products. Notepads. Pens and gum. And each bag has a pocket bible tucked inside, just in case. Renah delivers her bags to local rehab facilities where addicts often show up with nothing more than the clothes on their backs.
The Pittsburgh Pirates heard of Renah and what she calls "Mike's Army" and joined in the fight -- donating countless goods that now stuff the cardboard boxes Renah has stacked and ready for delivery in a building behind her family's home. Hope in a Bag. Think of that. Something so simple... and yet so special to someone struggling through their darkest days, alone.
I had the pleasure of meeting Renah and her family of fighters and want to share some video with you. She's quite an impressive young lady. If you'd like to read more about Operation Recovery Compassion, or you'd like to contribute to Renah's mission, please go to firstname.lastname@example.org.