Up Celebrates New Facilities,
Healing Power of Art
By Anita Varghese
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
Looking at the piece is therapy for him, and
he believes it would be therapy for others as
“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
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
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
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
“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.