Cancer cannot stop spring from coming!

October 16, 2017

Hello, friends, funders and partners!

We have some important news to share and ask that you read the entire letter from the team at AfA. 

Since 2003, Catherine O’Neill Thorn has worked tirelessly to serve, nurture and grow Art from Ashes (AfA) into the amazing organization it is today. As you no doubt know, AfA provides creative youth empowerment workshops that allow marginalized young people to express their creative genius through poetry and spoken word (Phoenix Rising); visual and tactile art (Drawing on Air); and drama and creative play (Casting Shadows), in a non-judgmental space with caring adults and community artists.

Starting a nonprofit, seeking funding, creating a community of support, and developing systems and policies hasn’t always been easy, but if you know Catherine at all, you know that she is a tenacious, hardworking Executive Director who does not back down from a challenge.

One of her key goals has been to develop a strong and experienced staff and Board of Directors—to ensure AfA did not remain a one-person show, but would become a properly staffed organization to ensure it is flexible, adaptive and focused on the mission. We are pleased to tell you that as we celebrate our 14th anniversary, AfA has a seasoned and qualified team of four full-time (including Catherine) and one part-time staff members, a dedicated Board of broad experience and background, and a robust team of volunteers. AfA has never been better positioned to advance its mission!

This achievement takes on a new urgency in light of a personal challenge that Catherine is facing in the form of a diagnosis of breast cancer. This is tough news to share with the AfA community—Catherine has always been there for all of us, now we intend to be there for her. She has developed a comprehensive treatment plan with her doctors and caregivers that will keep her busy into early 2018.

During the healing process, Catherine will stay involved with AfA, but obviously cancer treatment is a serious matter, and, in the near term, will impact her day-to-day role with AfA. With that in mind, the AfA Board and Executive Team have put together a plan to keep the organization running smoothly until Catherine is once again operating at 100%.

The AfA team brings a diversity of professional expertise and talent to every challenge we encounter and is working diligently to ensure seamless stewardship of Catherine’s executive responsibilities. We have numerous grants in queue, three special events planned by year’s end, and we are training a new generation workshop facilitators. By the end of 2017, our facilitators will have completed 50 additional youth empowerment workshops. We project that we will have served more than 640 youth this year based on current numbers for a total of 3,300 youth contacts. These numbers represent significant increases from last year.

We also welcome two new board members who will be active in the next month: Richard Russeth is an attorney, photographer and poet; and Lorietta Nelson is a sculptor and database architect, with additional experience in arts events management. Both have been avid supporters of AfA for more than a decade.

Finally, Neruda once wrote: “You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep Spring from coming.”  Cancer may be busy cutting flowers, but we know it will not stop Catherine! 

Just as we are supporting Catherine, we trust in your continued support of AfA during this time. If you have any questions at all, please don’t hesitate to reach out to any of us!

Thank you,

Lewis Lease, Board President, Art from Ashes Inc.

I give what I can to Art from Ashes because it brings me joy to know there are people who want to hear the voices of the youth; that a space exists where young people can speak their hearts and minds in safety and mutual acceptance; and that creative expression is something we value for the youth, because here we understand that art saves lives.

—Lewis Lease, Board President

My “why” is the youth; both participants and staff.  I value working and supporting a vibrant and committed staff to support the program.

—Cindy Grove, Board Vice President and Treasurer

I came to Art from Ashes to discover my own creative genius and to serve youth in the process. As a volunteer, and now board member, I’ve gained so much personal insight, creative empowerment, and amazing friendships along the way. I love seeing young people express themselves through poetry, connect with each other and audiences in the community, and transform their personal stories. It gives me great hope for the future.

—Jessica Jarrard, Board Secretary

I wholeheartedly support the creative programs that Art from Ashes provides. Through artistic expression, youth discover the power and beauty in themselves and in each other. In a trauma-filled world that can often feel hopeless, AfA programs promote strength and resilience by encouraging young people to tap into their innate creative genius and rise above. The world needs more art, more love, and more Art from Ashes.

—Courtney Chandler, Board Member

I am someone who values human connection and understanding and have dedicated my life to bridging gaps between people. Art has a unique ability to allow us to comprehend different levels of “knowing” each other. This transformative work has implications on healing, connection, communication, improved access to self love, inner power and breaking down all of the –isms we challenge in our society.

—Tiffany Bowden, Board Member

Poetry saved my life as a teenager, I had a teacher who listened to all my poetry. Art from Ashes is a resource I never had, wish I would have and believe every struggling young person should have!  That’s why I want to support AfA.

—Richard Russeth, Board Member

I love Art from Ashes! I’ve been a supporter for over 10 years now and I have seen how the effective the programs are. This is a safe, empowering place where anyone can play, heal and express their creativity. These programs work!

—Lorie Nelson, Board Member

I support Art from Ashes because time and again I have seen it work. I’ve watched young people and adults sit in workshops and become more open, empowered people who feel free to share their voice and tell their story. After watching it transform so many people (myself included), I couldn’t help but give my all to support this program.

—Alyssa Bennett Smith, youth workshop facilitation and staff responsible for Agency Operations

As an adolescent, I wrote poetry constantly, but had no outlet for it aside from my little notebook. That isolation and loneliness I remember so well is why I feel so blessed to have found Art from Ashes. The connection and community created by this agency is beautiful and gives me hope for the future—our incredible and inspiring youth. When I am facilitating a workshop, I know I am giving the youth what I wanted at their age more than anything else: validation, support, love, and respect.

—Jessica Whetsel, youth workshop facilitation and staff responsible for Program Facilitation

There are few things as fulfilling in life than the moment in which we connect with others and transform because of our shared humanity. Self-expression is such a powerful tool, especially when you point it inward and utilize its power to break free of the stories we tell ourselves that hold us back from our truest potential. I can honestly tell you I believe in Art from Ashes with all that I am.

—Jen Harris, youth workshop facilitation and staff responsible for Community Collaborations

Art from Ashes brought writing and performing back into my life. When I became a guest artist, it filled a hole in my life I never even knew was there. As a facilitator, I create a space for youth to also experience self expression in a way that is often taken from us as we go through life. AfA stands behind its mission to empowering struggling youth; as an organization we don’t just talk about it, we implement it. From the volunteers, to the staff, to the Board; everyone plays a role in the youth voices being heard.

—Irina Bogomolova, youth workshop facilitation and staff responsible for Volunteer Coordination

Open a pdf of the note from Catherine O’Neill Thorn, Executive Director

or read the text-only version below:

Over the years, I have worked diligently and passionately to create an agency that can stand strong in the community—always with a view to  sustainability. Starting with volunteers and gradually adding a small part-time staff, we set the intention to hire and train a dedicated staff willing to work alongside me and even beyond me. After 15 years, I am honored to have that team in place. In addition, our board of directors has proven their dedication on a purely volunteer basis, donating money and working well beyond their monthly commitment to ensure we continue to serve the youth we love and support the communities in which we live.

I know that my journey toward health and wholeness is strengthened because of these good people—and because of you. 

None of this could have been possible without the involvement of the wider community of volunteers, supporters, and creative geniuses. We measure that success in the number of youth served—their transformation undeniable as they discover the power of their creativity. It also is measured in our many awards and national recognition. Ultimately, the success of the work we do is no longer dependent on my full-time presence, which is why I know Art from Ashes will continue to thrive over the next four to six months. 

Although I will still be available during my time of healing, the dream has been realized in that the community supports the agency that supports the community. That is every founder’s dream.

Please know that your generosity this giving season, as always, furthers our mission. I would ask that your gift be so joyfully and freely given, that AfA’s wonderful staff can focus not only on their (significant amount of) work but for a time, also on some of mine. Please support them as much as you are able.

While I may not be able to respond to messages directly, know that I appreciate and would ask for your prayers and good thoughts.

I hope to see you soon!