Sozo's opens in Export as alternative to drugs
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Sozo's isn't your typical coffee shop. Cups of Joe are plentiful, of course, but these don't cost a dime. The same goes for the snacks. All are provided by volunteers.
The point of Sozo's, at 5847 Washington Ave. in Export, is to provide a free, safe place for teenagers to hang out -- an alternative to the destructive influence of drugs or alcohol, owners said. It has been open about a month.
Shop owners Bill and Becky Snyder said they are no strangers to the ill effects of drugs.
"I think what they are doing ... to me, is incredible," said Carmen Capozzi of Irwin, a friend of the Snyders who lost his son, Sage, to heroine addiction four months ago.
"If you can get kids in there young enough and bring them up and give them a place where they know the owners -- and who in the kids' minds, are cool -- it might be a place where they will hang out."
Prior to moving to Pittsburgh 18 years ago, the Snyders spent several years in Los Angeles County, Calif., working with inner-city youth through a nonprofit program called Holy Ghost Repair Service.
"It's a street ministry that dealt with runaways, ran a food bank, dealt with poverty," Mrs. Snyder said. "It was kind of what we wanted to do when we came back here."
But the timing was off. Instead, the couple started His Hand Extended Ministries in 2004.
A year later, the nonprofit opened a secondhand shop, His HEM Thrift Store on Mamont Street in Export. Run by volunteers, it benefits needy residents unable to pay their utility bills. Nondenominational women's Bible studies are also held each week.
Mrs. Snyder said Sozo's is their first East Coast venture into reaching out to people hurting as a result of drug abuse.
"Drugs are a terrible problem, but it's not just the inner city feeling it," she said. "We've been trying to make people aware of the problem for years, but they generally do not listen until it starts affecting their own house or their own friends."
For Mrs. Snyder, it was the death of a close friend's young adult child caused by heroin use that reopened her eyes to the larger drug problem outside of metropolitan Pittsburgh.
"So far, I feel fortunate because my kids haven't had this problem," said the mother of two. "But they do have friends who have used drugs. Every parent thinks, 'No, it won't happen to me.' "
But it can and it does, she said. It was a combination of past experiences working with teens and the desire to fight back that prompted the Snyders to open Sozo's -- a Greek word meaning "salvation."
One weekend it hosted an open house/fundraiser.
Mr. Capozzi attended and said he was blown away by the openness of everyone gathered there to share information.
He lamented the lack of such resources when his son first started struggling with drugs after a lifetime on prescription drugs for attention deficit disorder. Mr. Capozzi's son would have turned 21 last week.
"I definitely feel like every community should have something like that," Mr. Capozzi said. "I think they are doing a great thing. Where else can kids go? It's a great meeting place, even if it's just for kids to go and grab something to eat and hang out."
Mrs. Snyder said the aim of the fundraiser was twofold -- to let parents and kids in the area know Sozo's is there and to raise money for Teen Challenge, a faith-based drug rehabilitation program. The event featured local Christian bands and guest speakers from Teen Challenge and the Monroeville-based Jade Wellness Center.
Mrs. Snyder said the event, which attracted some 60 people, raised $1,700.
"For me it was encouraging to step out and talk to people," Mrs. Snyder said. "If you think someone needs help, speak out. You might save a life."
She said they want to raise enough money to sponsor a local in the Teen Challenge program -- which costs about $10,000.
First Published July 26, 2012 4:43 am