Lila Samuels

Artist Lila Samuels stands in an empty lot at 514 Napoleon St., which she is transforming into The Healing Garden Art Park. Sept. 29, 2020.

In Kernville, Lila Samuels is remodeling 514 Napoleon St. into The Healing Garden Art Park. The park is being established for mental health and suicide awareness.

“My mother was diagnosed with schizophrenia, and I lost my sister and my niece to suicide,” Samuels said.

The park’s purpose is coupled with her love for art. Her artistic abilities include art deco, sculpting and wood-working.

The art park is for individuals to sit, create art if they choose, and enjoy visual displays among flowers.

The purchased site is still dirt and gravel. To transform the space, Samuels is seeking support through a GoFundMe page.

She has enlisted local artists such as Anthony Jacobs to donate their work.

Jacobs’ focus is illustration and fashion design. He is also a youth mentor at Fitness Weights and Aerobics in downtown Johnstown.

When Samuels shared her vision with Jacobs, he joined her efforts, because “I believe in the purpose,” he said.

The Philadelphia native once suffered from PTSD after being a victim of gun violence in 1996. He said he recovered from the experience through mental-health counseling.

“I am very supportive of people getting help for traumatic situations,” he said.

Norman Ed, a sculptor and retired art teacher from the Westmont Hilltop School District, has an art studio in Hornerstown. Ed is making built-in steel easels for the park.

“The concept came from Lila,” Ed said.

“I’m just paying it forward to another artist.”

Other critical needs for the park’s development include concrete, fencing and benches. Volunteers are needed in landscaping, gardening and maintenance. Residents and nonresidents of Kernville are welcome.

Samuels is also seeking board members.

“I am asking interested persons to submit a resume and a one-page letter explaining why he or she is interested in this role,” she said.

Samuels plans to add a few special touches to the art park, such as an 8-foot statue of a Black woman holding a lantern in her hand, similar to the iconic Statue of Liberty in New York City.

“The symbol of the lantern means she’s shining a light on a community of color,” Samuels said.

A brightly colored mailbox will be displayed. The box will contain information to help those with mental health or emotional issues. In the garden section, a memory wall will list individuals lost to suicide. Anyone who would like to have a loved one (last name optional) memorialized on the wall can do so for a small donation.

Samuels’ goal is to complete the art park by the summer of 2021. 

LaToya Bicko is a Johnstown-based freelance writer.

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