Try to find the words to describe Steve Uzelac and what he has meant to the Hope Family Village and NAMI Williamsburg communities. Not to mention me. You can’t. Save one. Iconic.
I have known Steve for 8 years. We met after a NAMI Williamsburg Support Group Meeting at St. Stephens Lutheran Church. We were introduced and shortly thereafter we began a connection and my instruction: How to live, successfully, with a serious mental illness and we must factor the role of families into this life.
For NAMI, Steve has been involved in virtually every program from Peer Support Group Facilitator to an “In Our Voice” presenter. Each requires an uncommon openness with other peers and the public. In so doing, he has inspired other peers and caregiver families for years.
Steve taught me about courage, perseverance, commitment. How to overcome obstacles and make for a better, more complete life. The more I came to know him, he helped me to understand the experience that my son Collin was enduring. He would often employ another word that you don’t hear every day, essence, to describe a part of his own quest. To realize it. Our daily walks together this past year have helped me know more about essence and, in my case, the acceptance of loss.
Over the years, we have had coffee together. Gone to lunch together. Walked miles and miles. Always talking. About every topic under the sun. The Bible, his church, Unity, books, consciousness, Carl Yung, quantum mechanics, Einstein, energy, Gaia, our families, the number of dimensions in the universe (it’s 15), mankind and its future. (That’s the short list.)
As the news of the Covid case data roll coaster ride dragged on and on, Steve joined me, and other NAMI Williamsburg members, in starting a Saturday morning walk at Freedom Park. What our fellow walkers quickly found is comfort. The comfort of seeing each others’ faces, walking and talking. Therapy. It made us think that we had stumbled on a better approach to care and we should invite the professionals to join us.
Inherently, we want to believe that “we are growing up to wake up” and know enlightenment. A concept Steve discusses as a never-ending process. One of his goals? Achieving maturity. Now, what could that possibly mean?
It means living in a world where we learn to live with ourselves, while taking care of one another. Where kindness is the only currency. Yes, it seems impossible. An endless journey without the satisfaction of reaching a destination. A utopia. He’s not thinking about the day after tomorrow, he’s contemplating hundreds, if not thousands of years from now when mankind finally sees that there is only love, no hate, no war. Acceptance for who we are. Completely beyond our comprehension. But most certainly a Hope Family Village pursuit.
Ever since I have known Steve, he has been working on a document to describe what he envisions. But like my trying to find words to describe Steve, as a human being, so vital to our world, he tries to find the words to describe a world we would all want to live in.
Our reality? We must find a way to live in the now. Have hope. More importantly, to make hope.
Because of Steve, there is a Williamsburg Fairweather Lodge. The first Fairweather Lodge in Virginia. A home, in a regular neighborhood, where the members are free to take care of one another and become a part of something bigger than themselves, the community. The approach invented by George Fairweather has no peer. It’s incomparable because the program and practice preserves one’s dignity, establishes standards, always freedom with accountability, and creates a family of acceptance and mutual support.
After a NAMI Family Support Group meeting, Steve approached me about living in a Fairweather Lodge. He wanted to, but neither of us knew how we were going to start one. In 2015, we travelled to Pittsburgh together to attend the annual Fairweather Lodge conference. Driving was our first exclusive time to get to know one another. For 9 hours, I talked on the way up and Steve talked on the way back. We were already sold on the concept, but after the conference we were sold on the practice. Yet, it would take another 4 years until we moved into a real house.
More often than not, dogged persistence distinguishes the realization of achievement, a goal, mastery from traveling in circles with good intentions of reaching one’s destination. Steve’s desire to live in a lodge was my prime motivator. And, it made complete sense. Gradually, we would attract many others who would feed the dream.
In the pictures you see here, you can get a sense of Steve. He’s omnipresent. He would always have an insight that would help further our goal to start a lodge. Be there. Be available. We started by having coffee at the same place, same time every week. The Coffee House, Saturday morning at 8 AM. We created an agenda. Agreed to meet for no more than one hour. We invited other peers, caregivers to join until we occupied such a huge portion of the shop that we had to find bigger restaurants like nearby Victoria’s. After two and half years of meeting, we finally located a house or rather an angel, Laura Mark, MD, who said she had a house. In fact, before our move-in, she came to our meetings and arranged sessions at her home.
Now, tonight, at the Hope Family Village family dinner (The Williamsburg Community Chapel, August 10, 2022), which Steve has been a faithful participant, regardless of the location, we celebrate him and his graduation to his next phase of living, in Quincey, Il, closer to his family. Steve, we (I) could not have made this journey, my friend, without you. You will remain a new category of lodge member. A “remote” lodge member. We remember the start. We don’t how we’re going to do it, but we will. Godspeed.