A get-together set for Saturday at the Chevy Chase Community Center in White Township is billed on the center’s Facebook page as “Remember Me,” a planned community outreach for everyone to come together in unity at a time where open communication and friendly conversation is needed.
Taking on a fair-like atmosphere, a number of public service and faith organizations, law enforcement and local business groups will have tables with information and representatives to talk with folks at the event. Indiana County District Attorney Robert Manzi is a chief sponsor of the event.
“Open communication and conversation” tells a little of what to expect. The talk Saturday will be about drug abuse, depression, racism, pandemic health threats, violence — generally, the things that trouble people these days. But event speakers and one-on-one confidants will be emphasizing the “reaching out” half of the conversation: the caring, the consoling, the encouraging parts of responding to burdens in people’s lives.
“Remember Me” tells most about the mission of the event, according to Rochelle “Missy” Johnson, the sparkplug behind the event.
“Remember Me,” Johnson said, is a key to seeking and winning support from others when someone can’t carry their load alone.
“It’s a way I think we can come out as a community and not be political,” Johnson said. “We can be personal. We can shake hands or smile at somebody. We can break down the barriers we have come up against — in the last three or four months, this country has been through so much division.
“I don’t think there’s anything in using those two words that somebody can’t find something for themselves.”
Johnson said she was driven to share what she has learned from enduring the drug-related deaths of two of her brothers, Brett Johnson decades back in 1990 and Frederick Johnson II just weeks ago on June 6.
“‘Remember Me’ is about the things we are going through, and the victories we’ve had,” Johnson said. “An addict for example can say, ‘I’m recovering, remember me.’ So it shows power in that way.
“It is reaching out. And I can’t think of anything it doesn’t cover. It’s biblical: It speaks for the dead, it speaks for the living, and it speaks for the tried. We are all tried — we have so many things coming at us every day and they are not stopping.”
For many, Johnson said, asking “Remember Me” brings responses of “me too” from others that can empathize, sympathize and share in restoring peace and faith in their lives.
“Remember Me” is set to run from noon to 4 p.m. at the grounds of the Chevy Chase Center. Free food will be provided indoors for children; other activities are planned on the open spaces surrounding the center, to help achieve distancing.
The event is as much a platform for the trained professionals representing counseling services, churches, service groups and law enforcement agencies to help people as it is for participants to help each other in the most personal ways, Johnson said.
Depression, thoughts of suicide, substance abuse, joblessness, the sense of isolation from coronavirus quarantines and the feelings that the isolation magnifies all can be taken to certified counselors, but opening oneself to present their problem and ask, “Remember Me,” can bring invaluable support, according to Johnson.
“I think we all are hurting separately. If we can unite, not just on drug issues but on all things that harm or separate us, you can ask people to remember you,” she said. “If you say, ‘hey, I have this problem, remember me,’ then someone will know you. You have a better chance that they are going to pray for you when they go to sleep at night.
“When you bring your problems or your victories and ask somebody to remember you, you may find somebody going through the same things. Someone to talk to.”
Johnson said people can serve their community and other families by saying the two words; in her case, she’ll share the losses of her brothers.
“It’s not just for my family, it’s for all families,” Johnson said. “I’ve been through this twice and if I say nothing, that is putting my son at risk. To say nothing is wrong. If I say nothing it puts your child at risk.”
Doing so can ease personal burdens, she said, and at the same time, that sharing can engender a broader response to problems burdening communities and the nation as a society.
“I’ve had enough. I love my mixed-up biracial family, I love the people that I work with regardless of the color of their skin,” Johnson continued. “You can’t divide because somebody puts an idea in your head.
“We have to fix our own house. The United States of America is our house, and our foundation was built on God and the Constitution. You can’t break those things down or our house will fall down. And that’s what’s happening.”
“Remember Me” means joining Blacks and Whites, she said.
“We can get together. We can’t be colors when our communities and our country are failing.”
Johnson said she hopes that the concept might be adopted by other communities for similar programs.
Locally, the district attorney said he hopes that the event can encourage people to come forth and help solve Indiana County problems.
“The Drug Task Force is going to be there and one of several goals is to help build a relationship with the community so we can work together, and one of our aims is to attack the drug problem here in Indiana County,” Manzi said. “The overarching theme is an opportunity for the community to come together not only to address drug problems that we have in the community, but for the community and the people to build relationships and support each other in a general sense.
“With the COVID situation going on, people are disconnected from one another. People are stuck in their homes, taking obvious and important precautions, but it is an opportunity to show each other that we are here for each other. When you have a more well-connected community, studies show that is one of the main factors to fight drug addiction and fight drugs in the community.”
Manzi said he hopes people will feel more comfortable about contacting his office or police agencies to report what they know about drug activity in their communities, and equally to step up and help to serve as volunteers.
“I hope people will feel more connected in their community and are willing to put their time into finding their ways,” Manzi said. “We have a strong tradition of people devoting time and resources.” Local fire companies and Little League programs are examples.
“Part of the thing is building up community relations. Drug addiction is a problem that does not have a one save-all, end-all (solution), but what we’re trying to do is build the community. What may be needed for one person, a second person needs something different,” Manzi said. “We want to be out there in the community to let them know, ‘we are here for you, we’re working for you, and we want to address this very serious problem.’
“A second part of this is that we want to hear from you. We want to hear the problems you’re seeing. Through our investigations and intelligence, we can learn certain things. But people know what’s happening on their block better than we do. So opening channels of communication can help us work together toward getting there.”