Opinion: Beauty that heals

Last Sunday, I took my first trip to Beit T’Shuvah. I’ve been hearing about this highly successful addiction treatment center for years and had met some of its staff, but I’d never visited its campus on Venice Boulevard, with its sanctuary adorned with stained-glass windows, as well as some 80 to 90 bedrooms housing double that number of residents in various stages of recovery.

Driving down Venice Boulevard, you’d never notice the place. Famous for its high energy and innovative, nurturing spirituality, Beit T’Shuvah’s physical plant is not much to look at.  Which is OK, really, because despite what Hollywood might preach, aspiring to physical beauty is not always the greatest path to healing.  And being a little downscale probably does some good for people who want to lay low and find themselves.

But there are times when even the most high-minded could use a face-lift — or at least a massage — and Beit T’Shuvah’s time has come, thanks to the vision and generosity of two women who have been friends since childhood, Heidi Bendetson, a designer by trade, and Rhonda Snyder, an energetic entrepreneur who has a relative currently in treatment at the center. These women’s ambitious goal — to make over some 40 bedrooms by June 17 — is officially dubbed the Beit T’Shuvah Charity Design Project. Already they’ve “revealed” a half-dozen completed rooms in what has become, in fact, a very thoughtful and touchingly sensitive “Extreme Makeover.”

For the project, the pair has already recruited about 50 designers — some, professionals; others, people who just love to redecorate — to donate time, skills and all the furnishings. This includes everything — all the floorcoverings, lighting, furniture, window treatments, bedding and even some art. They figure that when it’s all done, about $100,000 worth of goods will have been provided. And that doesn’t count the innumerable hours of professional time, including the elbow grease needed to put it all together. The project is well on its way, but like anything of this scale, there’s always a need for more help. Particularly, Bendetson and Snyder said, from more designers and others who care to donate.

To see what’s going on there is, honestly, a bit breathtaking. I visited most of the rooms finished so far, after peeking into some sad-sack spaces still in their original state. What I saw was once dank and definitely overused spaces with no charm and even less storage space that have been transformed into places that would fit well in a nice hotel.

I was ready to move in. No kidding.

“It’s like the W,” one resident in the women’s quarters told me as I walked into a well-lit bedroom highlighted by a turquoise-colored wall stenciled with a reverse-white image of an enormous and delicately articulated cherry-blossom branch — a tree of life. Modern fixtures brightened the space, and a wall-length closet enclosed with translucent glass doors added elegance.

A more masculine space in the men’s quarters was simpler but just as inviting. “I don’t ever want to leave my room,” Gabriell Horton, 37, told me. “It makes me feel very comfortable, and it’s a big part of my recovery.” Horton, once addicted to methamphetamines, he said, now works nearly full time, thanks to Beit T’Shuvah, after beginning each day with Torah study.

“Before” pictures hang on the walls outside the rooms that have been completed: Where clothing once spilled out of closets, and once-off-white walls had turned gray, now order, art and mirrors — lots of those — enliven the spaces. There’s a sense of freshness and beauty.

“We told the designers, ‘These rooms should be a haven of serenity,’ ” Snyder said.

“We also didn’t want them to go over-the-top,” Bendetson added. The goal was to make nice, livable places that are sensitive to the needs of people who not only are working on their chemical addictions, but also on their self-esteem. Mirrors help to support positive self-images, the lightness to create a positive attitude.

Lexy Nolte, 20, is one of the younger residents; she’s an adorable, smiling young woman who took time to point out all that she loves in her made-over bedroom, which she shares with a roommate. A used chest has been rehabilitated into a multipurpose bureau, dark blue carpet covers the floors, and decorative new bulletin boards allow for personal pictures on the walls.

“I sleep much better now,” Nolte said, mentioning that when she moved in, the walls had been defaced by previous residents’ drawings — all gone now. As a lyrical touch, a small chandelier serves as an overhead light, the envy of all on the hall.

Bendetson’s first inspiration for the makeover came after she participated in a similar charity design project for the Good Shepherd downtown women and children’s shelter. One of 30 designers on that project, Bendetson regretted never getting to meet the residents once her work was finished. When she found herself looking to do her own charity project, Snyder and other friends led her to Beit T’Shuvah, a place that values openness to new ideas and new approaches as the heart of the healing process.

Bendetson and Snyder took their proposal to the facility’s senior rabbi, Mark Borovitz, who quickly welcomed them.

“We had not seen the rooms and didn’t know what we were up against,” Bendetson admitted. And both women were sensitive to the idea that their plan shouldn’t seem to be imposing an outsider’s view onto the place.

Borovitz didn’t blink. “His response was, ‘As long as we don’t have to pay for it, go for it!’ ” Snyder said, laughing.

And so, what’s happening is a win-win. The residents sleep better in rooms that make them feel good. The designers get to hear the oohs and aahs of gratitude, and, if all goes as planned, these new spaces will lighten the lives of residents-in-need for years to come.

Harriet Rossetto, CEO, founder and clinical director of Beit T’Shuvah, a tough cookie who wears her heart on her sleeve, has always known how much the facility had to offer residents, but now it’s becoming even more tactile and obvious for the residents.

“The message this gives to the people who live here is ‘You Matter,’ ” Rossetto said, smiling ear to ear.

To see photos, visit this article at jewish journal.com; to participate or donate, contact designedfromtheheart@gmail.com or visit this article at jewishjournal.com.