Our Team


key staff

Catherine O’Neill Thorn, Executive Director
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Courtney Chandler, Director of Programs
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MJ Smart, Program Manager
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Alyssa Bennett Smith, Agency Administrator
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Jessica Trumbull, Facilitation & Curriculum Development
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Veronica Holyfield, Facilitation & Program Development
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AfA Facilitators

Art from Ashes contracted facilitators range from Master’s degree experts in counseling and professionals in the field of child development to poets and artists trained to facilitate the Phoenix Rising program. Training is ongoing but requires an initial six-month process that includes participation in an adult workshop (and every six months thereafter), a background check, 12 hours of curriculum supervision and 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
:: Profesor of Capoiera
Expertise: Program Evaluation Specialist, Child Protection, Mental Health, Community-Based Social Work Practice, Capoeira, Photography
County of Residence: Denver
Term Expiration: January 2018
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Cindy Grove :: Treasurer
:: 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

Sharon Gabel, MBA, PHD :: Secretary
:: Senior Human Resources Analyst
Expertise: Human Resources, Organizational Development, Strategic Workforce Planning
Professional Affiliations: American Society for Training and Development, Society for Human Resources Management, Organizational Development Network
County of Residence: Jefferson
Term Expiration: January 2018

Catherine O’Neill Thorn :: Executive Director
Expertise: Published Poet, Program & Curriculum Development, Public Speaking, Grant Writing, Graphic Design, Marketing, Fundraising
County of Residence: Jefferson
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youth representative*

Rachel Icolari
Youth Participant/Poet
[contact info available upon request]
County of Residence: Denver

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
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*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: 5 African American 2 Hispanic 0
Male: 1 Caucasian 4 LGBTQ 1

board of advisors

Tommy Bagwell
Business Owner/Stylist, Fleur Salon

Andy Barbo
Owner/Operations Manager at Fleur Salon

John Ensslin
Journalist, President of the Society of Professional Journalists

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)
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Chris Ransick
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Qui’Anna Ray (Lady Speech)
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Carson Reed
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Ayinde Russell
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Suzi Q.
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Theo Wilson (Luce)
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Angela Nicole
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Piper Mullins
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Joshua Randy Abeyta
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Norma Johnson
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Dan Martinez
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Santemu Aakhu
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Jovan Mays
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Franklin Cruz
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Megan Burtt
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Prinjastin Sykes aka Prince Lit
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