Since its inception in 2003, Art from Ashes (AfA) has provided creative empowerment workshops to high-risk youth, facilitating expression, connection and transformation among the most neglected and vulnerable segments of our community. Catherine O’Neill Thorn, founder and Executive Director, has been conducting transformational poetry and spoken word workshops at juvenile detention facilities, treatment centers, and schools—including post-trauma workshops for Columbine High School students—since 1992. Her method of using poetry and metaphor to encourage powerful choices is the seminal program of Art from Ashes.


During her 30 years of working with youth in various treatment venues, Catherine honed the Phoenix Rising curriculum she created until it became an award-winning, nationally-known program. Each prompt is designed to empower struggling youth to express their creative genius through metaphor and expose them to a language based on self-affirmation and belief in a successful future. The workshops provide a forum through creative expression for youth to recognize and acknowledge previous negative experiences through storytelling; remove the barriers that isolate young people from each other, from caring adults, and from society; and allow youth to experience health and hope rather than the expectation of further victimization.

While Art from Ashes does not use poetry therapy in its process (in fact much of the facilitator training deliberately distinguishes our process from art therapy), in a series of 3-minute writing prompts facilitated over two hours, young people see immediate evidence of their creative ability and readily share their experiences—a process that often takes much longer using standard inquiry or therapies. Our creative methodology provides results that surpass standard arts programming. In fact, Art from Ashes has received five national awards due to the significance of our results.

Catherine O'Neill ThornDuring 2018-19, Art from Ashes also developed the Drawing on Air curriculum, which uses expression, connection, and transformation to facilitate youth resiliency and artistic competence through visual and tactile art. The Drawing on Air workshops provide youth with exposure to the arts, positive adult role models, and access to creative projects, which have been shown to impact their artistic expression, their connection to community, and their sense of self as a creative genius. Throughout 2019, Art from Ashes provided the Drawing on Air curriculum during creative time after-school workshops. Drawing on Air is offered to partners as an adjunct to our Phoenix Rising program.

Two additional adjunct programs are currently in development: Casting Shadows, creative empowerment through theater and play, and Wingspan, creative empowerment through body awareness and movement.

To date, AfA has provided creative workshops with almost 200 partnering organizations for more than 14,000 young people who have survived traumatic events, are victims of abuse, neglect and/or poverty, and are at risk for or engaged in destructive behaviors.

Check out our Community Awards & Honors

For information on our Phoenix Rising program, click here.

For information on our Drawing on Air program, click here.

For information on our Casting Shadows program, click here.

See our results here!