This story follows up on work done by Annette Shapiro, President of the Board of Directors of Beit T'Shuvah in Los Angeles. She was honored by KCET as a Local Hero during Jewish American Heritage Month earlier this year. Watch her story here.
Substance abuse facilities typically focus on helping individuals get better in a safe environment but overlook the aesthetics of the individual's surroundings. Beit T'Shuvah, a Los Angeles non-profit residential treatment center for people committed to overcoming destructive addictions, wasn't uninhabitable or decrepit, but the rooms weren't exactly welcoming. The carpets were stained, and beds and dressers blocked the windows -- the rooms were just a place to sleep, fairly standard for a rehabilitation center.
But this center, renowned for helping individuals from all backgrounds kick addictions, ranging from drug abuse to gambling, by integrating the teachings of the Torah with the 12-steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, went a step beyond the others -- and the residents are very impressed with the outcome.
"I think that this room completely describes me," said Jonny Friedman, a 23-year-old web designer, who said the designer of his new room had truly attempted to create an environment that suited his youth and personal tastes. "I feel like coming to a room that's this clean, this amazing, gives you a good feeling -- a Zen, if you will," he said, pointing to graffiti art on the wall that spells out "Zen."
Like the other 70 designers involved in the makeover of Beit T'Shuvah, Julie Soter had two weeks to re-do the room and bathroom. The redesign included updating the bathrooms, electricity, and floors.
"Doug, the graffiti artist, was unbelievable. He used to get arrested for doing this," Soter said. "This wall is tight! I'm going around -- a 50-something year old woman -- saying 'it's tight,'" she added while laughing.
Soter's own son went through the program and has been sober now for two years. For all of the designers the project was an emotional one, but for some it was also deeply personal.
The idea to renovate the 42 rooms came from two women who sought to create a more relaxing, inviting environment for those who committed to kicking destructive habits. "I have a relative who is here and I feel very connected to this community," said Rhonda Snyder, who co-chaired "Designed From The Heart at Beit T'Shuvah" with Designed From The Heart's non-profit's founder, Heidi Bendetson. "The theme of this place is that you matter. The work the residents are doing on themselves is important -- we can give them something uplifting and calming."
Bendetson, who works at a downtown homeless womens' shelter as a grief counselor, said the project was done in blocks and included 70 local designers. "I love bringing people together in philanthropy," she said.
Remodeling the rooms was something that many people hadn't really thought much about -- and required some convincing from Snyder and Bendetson.
"I didn't really see the power of design; I thought, 'we're saving lives here and that's what we do,'" said Rabbi Mark Borovitz, Beit T'Shuvah's spiritual leader. "I've changed my mind. If somebody comes to you with an idea and it makes sense, you say 'yes.'"
Each designer spent time asking the residents what they would like to see in the room. Bendetson, for instance, gave the ladies in her room a shabby chic feel that has not gone unappreciated. She even called in a friend to paint violet flowers on the outside wall visible through the window.
"When you have a pretty new room, you don't want to let it get dirty," said Lexy Nolte, 21, who has been recovering at the center for four months. She recently found a job and says she plans on going back to a university. "I did not expect this at all -- down to these last details. It's not just new sheets and a mattress; I can actually hang out and relax in here."
Maintaining the rooms is now another important part of being at Beit T'Shuvah.
"I bought the residents a vacuum cleaner so they could keep the room clean. I got them shampoos, soaps, and other things so they could feel good," said Laurie Raskin Shuman, one of the designers who went to great lengths to maximize space in the room she was responsible for and went as far to produce two pieces of art for them in her studio.
Aesthetics wasn't part of the program; transforming and empowering individuals is what it's all about. But beauty and tranquility has its own undisputable value.
"Sobriety is about maintenance. The residents are learning to take care of their space," said Harriet Rossetto, Beit T'Shuvah's founder and CEO. "It encourages responsibility."