Confronted with the social struggles for independence and dignity that her own son faced, Susan Dempsay founded Step Up on Second in 1984 as an alternative to traditional hospitalization. Initially a daytime socialization center, the agency now provides a broad spectrum of programs for men and women with severe and persistent mental illness. “Step Up is dedicated to the long-term support of people and families in mental health recovery,” says Tod Lipka, the Boston-born Executive Director.
Today, Step Up helps over 1,200 individuals and families each year with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and severe depression to develop their skills, manage their illness, achieve their goals and find acceptance. The agency provides a comprehensive array of services, 365 days a year. Step Up offers a meal program, case management, vocational training, social and educational groups, computer access and training, psychiatric support for medication; and for those participants who are homeless and mentally ill, there is access to showers, laundry facilities, a mail address and housing assistance. The Santa Monica-based social service agency works to reintegrate people into the community.
“Susan Dempsay felt that simply having a mental illness does not mean that a person does not have the same needs as everyone else,” says Lipka. “At Step Up we focus not on a person’s illness but on their strengths and how they can use those strengths to live a meaningful life. This was an idea whose time had come and this model, called Psychosocial Rehabilitation, has been demonstrated to be effective in helping many individuals in the past 22 years.”
“It is of great importance to me to feel that what I do is of value in the community,” Lipka says. “At Step Up I get to work with highly dedicated and diverse individuals who are truly making a difference.”
Step Up’s latest and largest project is “Step Up on Fifth,” a 46-unit permanent housing apartment building located on 5th St. Construction is slated to begin February 2007. “The need for additional permanent housing is very great for members,” says Lipka, “and I think we will continue to focus in the future on building additional housing.”
Lipka also wants to bring Step Up more to the forefront in the eyes of the general public, in order to increase a better understanding of mental illness and to reduce the stigma that still exists in the minds of many. A May lecture series includes talks on Bipolar Disorder, medications and Psychosocial Rehabilitation.
“We are lucky to be located in the City of Santa Monica,” says Lipka. “The beach, the mountains, the attractions, the resources, everything is here. It’s a big community with a big heart, and they have been very supportive of Step Up on Second.”
For more information, call 310.394.6889 www.stepuponsecond.org.