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Step Up Celebrates New Facilities, Healing Power of Art

By Anita Varghese
Staff Writer

September 20 -- Step Up on Second is five weeks away from owning the Village Motel at Santa Monica Boulevard and 26th Street to use as permanent housing for adults ages 18 to 28 who suffer from the early stages of mental illness.

Called Daniel’s Village and scheduled to open in fall 2008, the motel will be converted into eight housing units for members of Daniel’s Place, a Step Up on Second program for young adults experiencing their first episodes of mental illness.

“The dedication that has been shown from day one in the Step Up family is inspiring,” said Mayor Richard Bloom. “Daniels’ Village is a symbol of hope and the aspirations of a community.”

Friends and donors packed Santa Monica’s Lowe Gallery Wednesday night to show their support for Step Up on Second and Daniel’s Place artists exhibiting and selling their work at the fourth annual Art Heals fundraiser.

Zachary David Juster -- a Daniel’s Place member who experiences severe social phobias, feelings of losing control and desires for isolation and seclusion -- exhibited a painting of interlocking red, orange and yellow squares and rectangles.

“Flame Order was conceived during a very destructive, painful period of my life when I was really learning how to cope,” Juster said.

Looking at the piece is therapy for him, and he believes it would be therapy for others as well.

“Finding art helped pick me up and helped me pick myself up,” said Juster, who was admitted to UC Berkeley on a full academic scholarship, but left school for a nomadic lifestyle on a series of vegetable farms in the Northwest. “I can let creativity evolve under its own energy without me needing to be in control of it.”

Since the Art Heals fundraiser last year, more than 144 Step Up on Second and Daniel’s Place members landed jobs and more than 150 acquired housing. More than 200 members are on a waiting list seeking permanent housing.

Daniel’s Village is Step Up’s third building and joins Step Up on Fifth, which is now under construction and will have 46 units, and Step Up on Second, which was built 23 years ago and has 36 permanent housing units.

The agency -- which has received $11 million from the City for the three projects -- has been assisting individuals, housed or homeless, who have schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, severe depression or dual diagnoses of mental illness and chemical dependency to drugs and alcohol.

Step Up on Second officials made another big announcement Wednesday night -- the completion of an art classroom space at the Second Street facility called Julie’s Room.

The classroom is named after Julie Anderson, 46, who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder shortly after she accepted admission to Arizona State University at age 15.

While at college, Anderson was introduced to drugs for the first time and the experience triggered her first bout of mania. She had several severe episodes before finding the right combination of medications to regulate her disorder.

“Of all the places she’s been over the years and all the services she has accessed, I was most impressed with Step Up,” said Anderson’s mother Joy, who donated the funds necessary to create Julie’s Room and stock it full of art supplies.

“They are dedicated to really improving people’s lives and not just putting a Band-aid on problems,” she said. “They rehabilitate members and put them back into society in a meaningful way.”

Sheila Finley, who experiences bouts of depression, will help develop and facilitate art instruction at Julie’s Room.

Finley is a teacher, photographer, journalist and sometime painter who won third place out of 9,000 entries in the black and white photography category at a 1983 Los Angeles Times photography contest.

For more than 17 years, she has taught in Fresco County school districts, Wasco State Prison in Bakersfield and in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

She has been a Step Up on Second volunteer for two years and found the nonprofit organization after seeing an advertisement for art and writing classes.

“We have a great starting point with Julie’s Room,” Finley said. “Some of our members are extremely talented; the energy here is amazing.”

“Our members are fully involved in their recovery process and art is an integral part of that,” said Tod Lipka, Step Up on Second’s chief executive officer and president.

“Many of them are standing next to their artwork and having numerous conversations with the public, which helps them with their phobias and social skills,” he said.

Painter David Johnson has been a Step Up on Second member for two years.

In the past, he struggled with substance abuse (drugs and alcohol) and depression combined with periodic unemployment and homelessness.

He had worked in paint stores and for house painting companies, where his duties were to thin out industrial paint before they were sold to customers.

Johnson now lives off of Social Security disability checks and makes rainbow-colored creations out of art paint, which he says brings him out of a lonely shell that once caused his personal problems to fester.

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“Daniels’ Village is a symbol of hope and the aspirations of a community.” Richard Bloom


“Finding art helped pick me up and helped me pick myself up.” Zachary David Juster


“Our members are fully involved in their recovery process and art is an integral part of that.” Tod Lipka


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