Our Team


key staff

Catherine O’Neill Thorn, Executive Director
CLICK HERE for bio and to leave a comment

Alyssa Bennett Smith, Agency Operations
CLICK HERE for bio

Jen Harris, Community Collaborations and Youth Facilitation
CLICK HERE for bio

Jessica Whetsel, Program Facilitation and Youth Facilitation
CLICK HERE for bio


AfA Facilitators

Art from Ashes trains volunteers who range from Master’s degree experts in counseling and professionals in the field of child development to poets and artists. Training to provide co-facilitation requires enrollment in a 6-week adult workshop. Cost for the workshop is reimbursed after the volunteer facilitator supports eight youth workshops. A background check is required, and for those who wish to continue serving the youth as volunteer facilitators, AfA will provide ongoing supervision from a lead facilitator with bi-annual reviews, and monthly trainings from experts in various fields of study relevant to facilitating youth, including group dynamics, adolescent brain development and drug/alcohol counseling.

board of directors

The Art from Ashes Board of Directors provides the skill and expertise needed to establish and run the development aspects of the organization. Each director shall be elected to serve a term of three years, and a director may be elected for an unlimited number of successive terms. Art from Ashes has 100% board financial giving.

Lewis Lease, MSW :: President
:: Maestro de Capoiera
Expertise: Program Evaluation Specialist, Child Protection, Mental Health, Community-Based Social Work Practice, Capoeira, Photography
County of Residence: Denver
Term Expiration: January 2018
CLICK HERE for bio

Cindy Grove :: Treasurer/Vice President
:: Vice President Relationship Manager at Colorado Business Bank
Expertise: Banking (since 1982): commercial loans, treasury management and global banking; Manufacturing, Nonprofits, PHR in Human Resources
County of residence: Adams
Term Expiration: January 2018
CLICK HERE for bio

Jessica Jarrard :: Secretary/Team Liaison: Grant Writing
:: Professional Technical Writer and Editor, Part-Time Faculty Member at Metropolitan State University of Denver
Expertise: Technical Writing, Technical Editing, Technical Writing for Translation, Teaching, E-Learning, Grant Writing
Professional Affiliations: Member of the Editorial Freelancers Association, Boulder Writers Alliance, and Lighthouse Writers Workshop
County of residence: Denver
Term Expiration: July 2020
CLICK HERE for bio

Tiffany Bowden, Team Liaison: Business Development
:: PhD Candidate University of Illinois
Expertise: Human Resources, Advertising, Diversity and Inclusion, Creative Writing, Global Leadership, Sales; Professional Affiliations: American Association of Advertising Agencies; Awards: Thurgood Marshall Scholar, Ford Foundation Honorable Mention Alternate, McNair Scholar; Press coverage: Ebony, Reuters, Bloomberg, CNN, High Times, Black Enterprise
County of residence: Out of State
Term Expiration: March 2020
CLICK HERE for bio

Susan Martin, Team Liaison: FUNDevelopment
:: Accounting Supervisor at EOG Resources, Inc
Expertise: Fundraising, Communication, Visual Art, Accounting
County of Residence: El Paso
Term Expiration: January 2021
CLICK HERE for bio

Richard Russeth, Esq. :: Team Liaison: Communications
:: Vice President and General Counsel, Leprino Foods Company
Expertise: Corporate Law/Commercial Transactions
County of residence: Clear Creek
Term Expiration: October 2020
CLICK HERE  for bio

Lorie Nelson :: Team Liaison: Events
:: Artist, Product Manager, Exhibition Director
Expertise: Ceramic, sculptural and collage art, database design consulting, project, exhibition and events management, training design and coordination
County of residence: Denver
Term Expiration: October 2020
CLICK HERE  for bio

Catherine O’Neill Thorn :: Executive Director
Expertise: Published Poet, Program & Curriculum Development, Public Speaking, Grant Writing, Graphic Design, Marketing, Fundraising
County of Residence: Jefferson
CLICK HERE for bio and to leave a comment

youth representative*

Kumi Avila
Youth Participant/Poet
[contact info available upon request]
County of Residence: Arapahoe

board ambassador*

Marie Verrett :: Founding Board Member
:: Retired Air Force Major
Expertise: Management/Supervision, Public Speaking, Contract Sales
Professional Affiliations: American Society of Notaries, Military Officers Association of America
County of Residence: Denver
CLICK HERE for bio

*special advisors/founding board members

Board Ambassadors and Founding board members use their skills and expertise in service of the agency. They are available upon request to provide financial support and oversight without the specific requirements of active board members.

board of directors demographics:

Female: 7 African American 2 Hispanic 1
Male: 2 Caucasian 6 LGBTQ 1

board of advisors

Tommy Bagwell
Business Owner/Stylist, Fleur Salon

Andy Barbo
Owner/Operations Manager at Fleur Salon

Courtney Chandler
Adolescent Substance Abuse Counselor, The Phoenix Center

John Ensslin
Journalist, President of the Society of Professional Journalists

Sharon Gabel, MBA, PhD
Senior Human Resources Analyst, Builders FirstSource

John Harder, LCSW, ACSW
Independent Practice: Counseling and Psychotherapy

Rachel Julkowski
Documentary Filmmaker; Sesame Street Assistant Editor

Lisa Lee
Attorney, Featherstone Petrie DeSisto LLP, Faculty of Federal Advocates, Denver Bar Association, Colorado Women’s Bar

Chris Loffelmacher
Program Coordinator for Adult Cultural Programming at Denver Public Library

Benjamin Martin
Assistant Vice President, Mountain View Bank of Commerce

Debra A. Porter
Associate, Fairfield & Woods, P.C.

advisor demographics

Male6Pacific Islander1

volunteers & facilitators

Volunteers include board members and staff, all of whom donate 6 or more hours per month in their field of expertise. Volunteers choose from the following on which team to serve:

  1. Communications Team
  2. Community Liaison Team
  3. Events Team
  4. FunDevelopment Team
  5. Grant Writing Team
  6. Volunteer Coordination Team

Go HERE to find out more about volunteering at Art from Ashes.

guest artist bios

A pool of more than 30 contracted Guest Poets and Artists are available for AfA workshops. They are chosen based on their dedication to the arts and because they are professionals in their craft with honors, awards, and publications to their credit. They inspire and motivate the youth to engage in the process of creative expression at each workshop. Additionally, Art from Ashes introduces more than 40 published poets to the curriculum to ensure youth are introduced to the broader cannon of poetry as literature.

Gregory Harris (SETH)
CLICK HERE for bio

Qui’Anna Ray (Lady Speech)
CLICK HERE for bio

Suzi Q.
CLICK HERE for bio

Theo Wilson (Luce)
CLICK HERE for bio

Angela Nicole
CLICK HERE for bio

Piper Mullins
CLICK HERE for bio

Joshua Randy Abeyta
CLICK HERE for bio

Norma Johnson
CLICK HERE for bio

Dan Martinez
CLICK HERE for bio

Santemu Aakhu
CLICK HERE for bio

Franklin Cruz
CLICK HERE for bio

Megan Burtt
CLICK HERE for bio

Kayla Marque
CLICK HERE for bio

Leave a Reply