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Meet Juan Burgueno and Vera Calloway of Special Services for Groups and BACUP in Pico Union

Today we’d like to introduce you to Juan Burgueno and Vera Calloway.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
Juan: I had a mental breakdown in 1990. That same year, I met muralist, Judy Baca, and became part of many art shows in L.A. I had another breakdown in 2011, but I got help through the LA County Dept of Mental Health. I completed a Peer Program and became an intern here at SSG-BACUP. I created the Art Corner six years ago. I’m still learning about mental health, but the Art Corner has helped me with some issues by allowing me to help others. I engage clients and visitors and help them develop their artistic talent. Music and art inspire me to deal with my life and with mental illness–both mine and others–and I have a chance to give back and even act as a mentor on some levels.

Vera: I’ve worked in the entertainment, fashion and art industries and for non-profits, but my work here as Director at SSG-BACUP is the most fulfilling. Having been a client makes it imperative for me to do something for others the same way I’ve been helped. I started working with older adults at SSG-SILVER and then got this great opportunity 10 months ago after having been a fan of BACUP and its Art Corner for years. When I worked with artists such as Jean Michel Basquiat, the process of seeing their art come alive and have an impact was similar to what I go through now at BACUP. We see people with mental illness thrive by helping them get SSI/SSDI benefits and encouraging them to find their way in the world through art, literacy and computers. It adds to our own mental health and recovery.

Has it been a smooth road?
Juan: At BACUP, we turn challenges into healing opportunities. We’re mindful of the importance of mental health and well-being, so challenges are treated as part of everyday life and the struggle to be whole. It may not be a smooth ride all the time, but places like Special Service for Groups and BACUP help by allowing people to be themselves and find their way out of darkness and challenges…whether it’s mental health or homelessness.

Vera: Challenges are life-affirming! It’s hard sometimes with so many problems in the world right now. Homelessness is big on my list–we’re going to start offering Housing Services soon here at BACUP.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Special Services for Groups and BACUP story. Tell us more about the business.
Vera: Special Service for Groups, Inc. (SSG) is a non-profit that’s been doing social services since 1952. BACUP is one of 25 or so divisions and programs of SSG, so we’re in good company. BACUP is a Client-run Wellness Center which specializes in SSI and SSDI benefits assistance.

Juan: We also have the Art Corner where I’ve been working for 6 years. Our Art Corner is well-known in the mental health community–we’re champions of artistic individuality. I love working with artists and people who don’t even realize their creativity. We’re good at making use of any available medium at our disposal. We even have a drawing instructor, John Boudreau, an artist out of the School of Visual Arts in NYC.

How do you think the industry will change over the next decade?
Vera: With all the problems facing the world, I believe the need for social services and organizations like SSG and BACUP will only grow–just to help alleviate some of the pressure on society. Hopefully, more will be done for the homeless–especially with integrated services and permanent supportive housing. I would love to see the arts becoming a bigger part of people’s healing process. We’re doing our part and plan to grow our program to include more clients and services for the mentally ill.

Contact Info:

  • Address: 515 Columbia Ave.
  • Phone: 213-368-1888
  • Email:

Image Credit:
Juan Burgueno, Jr.

Getting in touch: VoyageLA is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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