Latest news from Art from Ashes!

2017 Holiday Letter

Thank you for taking the time to read the news of AfA! This holiday season, we hope you will be blessed with love, health and hope, in the same way that reach out to bless the most vulnerable in our community with the same through poetry and art and a belief in their value.

Hopefully you can join us for the holiday party on the 5th (invitation below)!

Meanwhile, here’s what we have to share during this wonderful season of lights:

2017-Annual Request Letter or read text below:

Happy Holidays!

At Art from Ashes we believe in the power of gratitude and find small ways to practice it daily. Everyone who enters our office is invited to name their blessings on a white board that hangs prominently in our workspace. To end everystaff meeting, we all participate in a gratitude circle, sharing why we are grateful for each person at the table, including what we appreciate ourselves. We do this because taking a moment out of our day to appreciate the beauty and magic of our lives  rejuvenates our souls and gives us strength.

According to Dr. Robert Holden, “The miracle of gratitude is that it shifts your perception to such an extent that it changes the world you see.” Sound familiar? In our creative empowerment workshops, young people learn they have the power to shift their perception of themselves and their world through creative expression—and it changes their lives forever. As 2017 comes to a close, we would like to share just a few of our many bright spots with you. Here’s what we’re celebrating this year:

  • We’re growing! In 2017 we welcomed four new board members, expanded our staff to include a Community Collaborator and received funding for a Resource Development Coordinator, trained seven new youth workshop facilitators, and according to October statistics, we have already surpassed the number of youth served in 2016.
  • We added a second free drop-in workshop called Creative Time to our Wednesday line-up! From 2:30-4 pm, youth can hang out in our space and express themselves through visual art before the 4:30-6:30 pm Phoenix Rising workshop, due to community funding, including grants, individual and corporate support (please see our website for a list of funders!).
  • For the fourth time, Phoenix Rising has been named one of the top 50 arts and humanities-based programs in the country by the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities.

These accomplishments wouldn’t be possible without donations from those who care about youth and the arts. All of us at Art from Ashes are grateful to YOU for your continued support of our creative empowerment programming. Your funding helps youth express their stories through art and poetry; connect with themselves, each other and their community; and transform their perceptions of themselves into valuable and powerful creative geniuses.

We hope you are grateful for the work we are doing on behalf of the youth and the community, and invite you to generously “give where you live” on Colorado Gives Day. Art from Ashes, as always, exists to serve by empowering youth and in so doing, supporting us all as a community. Please donate for Colorado Gives Day before Dec 5th at midnight.

With gratitude,

Catherine O’Neill Thorn, Executive Director

Alyssa Bennett Smith, agency operations and lead facilitator

Jess Whetsel, program facilitation and lead facilitator

Jen Harris, community collaborator

COGivesDay 2017

Colorado Gives Day is December 5th this year, and your donation carries even more weight because of a FirstBank incentive fund. We would love you to consider Art from Ashes youth as the beneficiaries of your generosity.

We’re also having a party at Art from Ashes between 6.30 and 9 pm that evening to celebrate our donors and youth and staff and board and volunteers and… well, everyone who has made AfA possible for the past 14 years!

And if you would rather give early, you can do that, too, by selecting the CO GIVES DAY button when donating.

We could really use the support this year in particular. Please help out with however much you are able!

AND as usual, we’re having out annual AfA Holiday Party to celebrate Colorado Gives Day! This year it’s at our new location on 10th and Navajo between the hours of 6.30 and 9 pm.

You will be inspired by brilliant Phoenix Rising youth and local poets; music by Joshua Abeyta; & instant poem gifts typed on the spot by Poet Jen Harris. You can enjoy delicious complimentary appetizers and alcoholic (with ID) and non-alcoholic beverages.

Proceeds from the event will be used to support Art from Ashes creative empowerment programs for youth.

We look forward to seeing you and your friends on Tuesday, Dec 5 from 6.30 to 9 pm @ the Art from Ashes home base, 1310 West 10th Ave, Denver.

If you can’t make it to the party, but wish to make a Colorado Gives Day contribution to Art from Ashes, you can do so by scheduling your donation anytime before midnight on Dec. 5th!
Click here —->

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!

Wednesday Youth Creative Time

Art from Ashes has the pleasure of working with young people across the Denver Metro area, providing creative youth empowerment programs on site at our location in the Lincoln Park neighborhood, right off the 10th and Osage Light Rail.

Do you need a safe, nonjudgmental place to be creative? Do you like poetry and art? Enjoy spoken word? Might want to be rapper? Just like to write or draw or paint? Know a young person who does? 

Every Wednesday our doors are open to young people age 12 to 24 for Creative Time from 2.30 to 4.30 pm followed by Phoenix Rising poetry and spoken word workshops. IT’S ALL FREE TO YOUTH, including writing and art materials, food, beverages, guest poets and artist performances, and pizza!

The Wednesday drop-in schedule is as follows:
2:30 PM: Art activities, comfy couches, snacks and beverages
4:00 PM: Clean up
4:30 PM: Pizza
4:45 PM: Youth empowerment workshop with guest artist
6:30 PM: Wrap up

Check out our YouTube channel to hear some creative genius from previous Wednesday night drop-ins.


Creative Mornings

Our founding director, Catherine O’Neill Thorn, was recently featured as the keynote speaker for Creative Mornings-Denver! Creative Mornings is a breakfast lecture series for the creative community that has chapters all over the world, and Catherine was chosen to speak on Genius… kind of our wheelhouse. The video includes two youth poets and a writing prompt you can try!

“Art from Ashes Executive Director and Poet Catherine O’Neill Thorn talks about how her organization helps young people who have experienced pain recover by finding their creative genius through poetry.

“At Art from Ashes, Catherine O’Neill Thorn and her team believe that each person is born a creative genius. Yet young people who have experienced abuse, poverty, racism and other forms of trauma struggle with self-worth and hopelessness because of their negative experiences. Come to hear from some of the artists who’ve gone through her program and learn how AfA’s team facilitate the awareness of an identity based on creative power, and from the ashes of despair, like a phoenix, youth learn to speak transformation into their lives through poetry and art.”

See all photos here


In February, AfA applied for the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award, and once again we have been recognized as having one of the top 50 youth arts programs in the country. More info here:

The NAHYP is a program of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities™—in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services™—to showcase cultural excellence and enhance the availability of out-of-school arts and humanities programs to children and young people.

Since AfA has consistently been recognized by this prestigious organization, we received a letter from the National Endowment for the Humanities encouraging us to apply for their Challenge Grant. After several conversations with the federal agency and over 100 hours of work on behalf of several members of the grant team, we applied for a two-year federal grant in May.

2017 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award Finalists Announced

Recover Your Creative Genius Gala

On June 9 Art from Ashes, guest artists, and more than 50 supportive donors gathered at the Grant-Humphreys Mansion in Denver to celebrate the importance of creativity in substance-abuse prevention and recovery.

The gala fundraiser, Recover Your Creative Genius, grew out of AfA’s success working addiction and substance abuse prevention and intervention. It was organized in large part by Liz Kane of Centennial Peaks Hospital, Rourke Weaver of Red Rock Recovery Center, with support from Wesley Hooks of Sandstone Care. Many of the young people we serve have been affected by substance abuse, and our youth empowerment programs demonstrate the importance of creative expression for personal transformation.

Keynote speaker Austin Eubanks spoke about his journey from Columbine survivor through addiction to his current work as an addiction expert. Guest artists Sur Ellz and Kid Astronavt joined AfA youth poet Savannah Ray Arterburn to provide an incredibly moving performance. Boss Sauce provided appetizers and a lavish three-course meal, and AfA board members, volunteers and staff contributed wine.

AfA Board President Lewis Lease and Executive Director Catherine O’Neill Thorn discussed the importance of AfA in our community and also thanked the attendees for supporting our programs with their generosity.

Corporate sponsors included Centennial Peaks Hospital, Red Rock Recovery Center, Sandstone Care, The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake, Dominion Diagnostics, and True Value of Woodville. Special thanks and personal congratulations to our own Jessica Whetsel, program manager and lead facilitator, who with her family chose to celebrate her shiny, new Masters Degree in Social Work at the gala.

Check out photos of this wonderful event!

Young AmeriTowne

On May 23, Art from Ashes was one of six charities chosen by the Young AmeriTowne youth board members to receive a donation at a lovely ceremony at Young American’s Bank in Lakewood. Over the course of the year, everyone was invited to donate personal funds or business profits at the donation station. The Community First Foundation agreed to match $.10 to each AmeriTowne dollar donated. We are especially grateful to the incredible youth from Young AmeriTowne for choosing our organization!

Young AmeriTowne is an organization that offers teachers of 4th and 5th graders a program that helps students learn about business, economics, and free enterprise. Every year they choose six new charities to receive AmeriTowne dollars, a play currency used to represent real money. Young AmeriTowne has over 11,000 youth participating at the Belmar location and over 25,000 students overall in their flagship program.

Noon Whistle Fund provides a much-needed breath of fresh air

We are incredibly excited to announce that we have received a significant donation from the Noon Whistle Fund! The Noon Whistle Fund is a family foundation whose members came all the way from Chicago this month to visit our office here in Denver. We ran through our Love Synesthesia prompt together, showing them how transformative our curriculum is for young people. Not only did they provide us with our requested amount, but they informed us a few days after their visit that they were so impressed with our program, they would be increasing it by 72% to provide additional staff support!

The Noon Whistle created their donor-advised fund in order to give back to many communities, wherever they may be. They do not have a website and don’t want to provide any contact information. The family members who comprise the foundation are kind and caring people, and we are so very thankful for their generosity. Because of support like this, we can all breathe more deeply, the load a little lighter.