After her daughter's death from a heroin overdose, longtime Seattle television journalist Penny LeGate found a special way to honor her memory. She's created a project to help other struggling teens get on a path to a better life.
As a former KIRO TV anchor and host of Evening Magazine, LeGate is used to telling other people's stories, but this one is painful and personal.
"Marah was an extraordinarily gifted child. She was given great intelligence, beauty and sensitivity," she says. "And a caring heart."
At the age of 12, Marah was a star pitcher, throwing a softball at more than 60 miles an hour. She was also an amazing ballet dancer. But LeGate says as gifted as she was, she wasn't happy. Marah was a sensitive soul who took on the world's problems.
"When she started going through puberty, that's when everything went dark. She was rebellious, wanted to experiment, and she kind of went off into this dark place," LeGate says. "This is when her depression, anxiety and ADHD issues came up."
Marah starting experimenting with pot and alcohol, and then cocaine. LeGate and her then-husband, Mike Williams, tried everything to get her to stop: counseling, medication, tough love, pleading. The drugs had such a powerful grip on her.
"She would say 'Mom, why do I have to be like this? Why can't I be like other kids? Why did I go to this place and why can't I stop?,'" she says. "She would tell me the only time she would feel normal was when she would use."
When Marah was 16, they sent her to a treatment facility in Tucson, Arizona for three months. In this state, kids who are 14 years or older can walk away from treatment without their parents consent. They were desperate to help her kick her addiction.
When she came home, Marah was better but not for long. She started using again, this time, getting hooked on Oxycontin. When the pills became too expensive, she turned to heroin.
"I was absolutely shocked when I heard heroin. I said 'Oh, my gosh, heroin, are you kidding me? I have a child who's addicted to heroin?'" LeGate says she never thought that would be her reality.
Marah was also scared of the power that heroin had over her and she voluntarily went into detox and treatment again. But she couldn't fight off her demons, and on June 12, 2012, LeGate's worst fear was realized. At the age of 19, Marah overdosed on heroin in the basement of their home.
"Yeah, I found her. That's your worst nightmare right there. What else do I have to fear?" she asks. "Nothing."
As she was grieving the loss of her youngest daughter, LeGate knew she needed to do something to help other kids who are struggling. In her memory, she created the Marah Project.
Rather than setting up a scholarship program for kids who succeed easily, the family wanted to create a paid internship opportunity for kids in the Middle College program. They are alternative high schools that are part of the Seattle Public Schools' safety net program. LeGate says it's the reason Marah was able to graduate from high school on time.
Through the Marah Project, students at the Northgate Middle College will get paid internships at a community service organization so they not only earn an income, but they also get valuable work experience and have something on their resume. She knows it's something Marah would want her to do.
"As horrible as it is to have lost her, I somehow feel peaceful about where she is now," LeGate says. "It's like she has her hand on my shoulder and is saying I'm sorry you're having to live with this, but I'm okay and I'm finally peaceful."
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