South Pittsburgh parish reaches out to recovering addicts

Wednesday, April 03, 2019 - Updated: 12:48 pm

By Bob De Witt Correspondent

Jason, 40, used to have a family and a thriving remodeling business. That was before he hurt his back, got hooked on pain pills and fell into a downward spiral of drug abuse.

Seven years later, Jason is sober and grateful for a second chance with the support of others, including parishioners from Holy Apostles Parish in South Pittsburgh.

Led by the Ladies of Charity, Knights of Columbus and staff, Holy Apostles donated tools, toolboxes and other supplies to a group of recovering addicts who are renovating old homes in Pittsburgh neighborhoods such as Carrick, hit hard by the drug epidemic. Along with a job and training, the workers are given a room in a recovery house and transportation to support meetings.

“This is a major sense of accomplishment,” Jason said after the group offered a prayer of thanks for the donations. “Having a place to live after rehab is huge, and everybody is paying rent.”

Holy Apostles administrator Father Steve Kresak reached out to Gus DiRenna, recovery director of ARK (Allegheny Recovery Krew and Serenity House Recovery Homes), asking how the parish could help. DiRenna, 60, is a former drug dealer and recovering addict who has been clean for nine years.

“I was beaten, broken and hopeless. I didn’t think there was any way out,” DiRenna said. “I was on my knees, praying, ‘please God, help me.’

“The transformation was overnight, but I still had to face my demons,” he said. “I saw a lot of young people in rehab who had no life experience, no job skills. I had to reach out and help pull them to their feet.”

DiRenna pours the profits from the remodeling business into the recovery houses. Currently, 26 men and women are living in nine homes throughout the city, each with their own room, which DiRenna says is important. “You need to have your own place when you come home at night,” he said.

Four men are living in a recovery house on Kirk Avenue in Carrick, which used to be a drug den.

“We’re called to go out into the community with a purpose, to be the eyes of Christ, seeing those who are suffering, and to be the ears of Christ, taking time to listen to their stories,” Father Kresak said. “We also need to be the hand of Christ, physically reaching out to assist and minister to them, helping them experience the heart of Christ through us.”

“There but for the grace of God go I,” said Helene Scheider of Holy Apostles’ Ladies of Charity, who has a family member in longtime recovery from alcohol addiction. “If we can help, that’s what we should do. We’ve got to give them a chance.”

Another house in Pittsburgh’s Beechview neighborhood is for women who are in recovery or who have come from shelters after suffering from abuse, DiRenna said.

The Rev. Jay Geisler of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Brentwood, who purchased the Kirk Avenue property, said that ARK needs more donated buildings.

Jason is hopeful about the future, and wants to give back. He and other men volunteer at the First United Methodist Church of Pittsburgh, feeding the homeless. He also just got back from a week in North Carolina, helping to rebuild a church. The ability to “pay it forward” is important to him.

“This isn’t just about ourselves,” Jason said. “There are others coming after us who will need help.”

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