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.

Adult Workshop Poem-Ginny Threefoot

A What-the-Workshop-Was-Like-for-Me Collage

Every meeting was a gift –
presents of words and gifts of presence.
A multiplicity of selves, each with her voice.
The beauty of listening.

My heart wants to know if we are on speaking terms.
I say to my heart: we are birds of a feather. We depend on each other.
I taught my heart how to lay down a stone.

The Art and Power of Story Making:
It’s time you spoke….
Lost in the art of words, I am found.
I am now free to look within for answers.
I compose myself.
(Homewords lead me homeward.)

Three Minute Gifts
The minutes pass without my counting them.
I am, I am, I am….
I am one who studies shadows, wondering.
I am free to hear god humming in the leaves,
to laugh and laugh.

Minor (life-saving) surgery: Left-brain Bypass

What is near can be seen anew.
What is far can be called upon.
Burdens into offerings. Curses into blessings.
Fears into kindnesses.
Here is this day. Here is this gift.
Here is my gratitude.


By Xexal, 19

I am the first-born child in my family
Meaning, my parents planned to have me
But were worried when I was born
Because an instruction manual
Didn’t follow after me from the womb…
They were forced to learn to love me
Like they were supposed to…
Meaning, they were as lost as I was

Without a mouth to talk and two legs to walk
I’m not saying that I didn’t have a good childhood
Up until when I started to cocoon into myself
To birth who I felt I wanted to be

It was smooth sailing
It was only after I took an Etch-a-Sketch to their final project
That was deemed as a job well done
See, I learned from kid Icarus
Not to fly too close to the sun
So I stopped going to church every Sunday
That maybe my parents would see my insubordination
As free will instead of rebellion

The unknown—
You always fear what you don’t understand
But there’s a choice that comes after
Fight or flight
Run back to the 3-story house you call a home
Or throw me a lifeline and trudge with me
Through my grit and grime
Maybe that Chrysler 300 can turn on a dime
But I can’t seem to get your time of day
‘Cause you see me walking down a long and lonesome road
But tell me to get off of it
To follow the yellow brick road to Jesus
And I’ll live in Emerald City with the Great and Powerful Oz
But these lies are locked like the boot of a car
For too many unpaid parking tickets
And maybe I don’t have a heart filled with courage
Or a head full of knowledge
So I’m left to the Wicked Witch
Of the path that I’m on right now

And it’s not like you can’t learn to love me
That’s not it, you did it before
But now it’s a little harder to love me
It’s… uncomfortable…
You see me as a rose in your garden
But don’t pick me ‘cause I come with a couple thorns on the side
As if to say the scars you left me with
Aren’t a signature from your own thorns

I mean I hate to break it to you
But sometimes you make me feel like an orphan
One in reverse order of natural adoptions
First you saw me, didn’t quite know how to love me
But knew deep down in your virgin hearts that I was yours to claim

And as time went on, you did love me
Like I came right from your womb

And as time went on, you had a serious loathing
For my unconformity to your portrait family picture
You grew distant… cold…

So I ran farther, hoping my trail would go cold, too
Every action has an equal but opposite reaction
I hope you’ve learned from my pain
Because no child should ever feel like an orphan

Xexal: Warrior Poet


“I fell in love the first day,” Xexal said with a smile. “I was meant to be here.”

After being kicked out of her parent’s house for being transgender, Xexal had nowhere to go, and at 19, found herself at Urban Peak, Denver’s homeless youth shelter. A few of Xexal’s fellow Peak-mates had been coming to AfA’s weekly drop-in workshops. Curious, Xexal decided to check it out for herself.

“It was really cool to see there are free youth programs like this that let people vent their emotions.” She said she loves the structure of the curriculum and how the writing prompts offer topics and channels that access a writer’s creativity and allow for a safe space to express feelings.

No stranger to using writing as a tool, Xexal has been creating poetry since the age of 10, when she was being bullied by her peers in school. “I realized that my words had power,” she said, and through writing she was able to connect to her life instead of lashing out and “doing stupid things because I wasn’t feeling good.”

While things still aren’t perfect or always easy, she takes pride in the fact that she does not pressure herself with a specific path as to what life should look like. Rather, she focuses on being happy and cherishes the strong network of support through AfA.

Although Xexal has suffered from depression and even thoughts of suicide in some of her lowest times, she says that has changed. She now finds connection and hope through the workshops and the relationships she has formed at AfA. “I honestly consider myself a bit of a warrior, because I’ve been through a lot but I’m still here and kicking it.”


Alysa is an amazing student from Endeavor Academy who has worked through issues of self-esteem and body image in the Phoenix Rising workshops. Halfway through the workshop series, she came up to a facilitator after class and said she had an idea for an incredible performance piece, and wanted to perform it for her classmates. Alysa was the guest artist for her workshop this past week, and she dazzled the room with her inspiring poem and her radiant beauty – with AND without makeup. We love and honor our youths’ powerful voices!

Ivan’s First Performance

IvanIvan Villegas, 16, walked in the packed auditorium of Cherry Creek High School on February 4th and immediately wanted to leave. He told AfA Program Manager, MJ Smart, that he wouldn’t have agreed to perform if he knew how big the audience would be. There were roughly 250 people filling the room. The energy was high and people were anxious for the opening ceremony of the Diversity Fair to begin.

Ivan, keen to the energy of the room, started searching for a way to get out of his performance. Luckily, he was calmed by the confidence MJ and youth poet, Rachel Icolari, shared with him. Sweaty and shaky, Ivan jumped up out of his seat in the first row when the em cee called his name. He scurried across the stage, grabbed the mic free from the em cee and drew in a deep breathe.

With the confidence of a seasoned performer, Ivan introduced himself to the hundreds of spectators before him. “My poem is titled ‘Diversity,’ and it goes like this…”

Ivan knocked it out of the park! His piece was powerful and timely, and perfect for the event! The inspiration for Ivan’s piece came from his experience at Slam Nuba, a local poetry slam that his workshop attended last month.

Ivan is a pleasure to work with and an inspiration to all he comes in contact with. Welcome to the Art from Ashes family, Ivan!

The Power of Your Support

phoenix-kevinWhat is Success?

Manuel Perez, Age 17


What is success?
Is it the big mansion and the shiny sports cars?
Is it the millions in the bank and the shirt and tie?
Or is it finding yourself?
Is it reaching a goal that you long struggled for?
Is it doing what you want without caring about what others will say?
Breaking the barrier of society that wants you to
Walk a fine line without stepping out.
A line set by the followers and not the leaders.
Success is being the owner of your thoughts and values
Which you guard with your sharp sword,
Without letting society push you to fit in.

Think of a time you felt invisible. Maybe you were picked last in gym class, or your input in a  group setting was ignored and overlooked. Think of the power and validation you found when you finally became visible. That feeling is what AfA is about!

When a youth like Manuel writes a poem about success, he isn’t just responding to a prompt. He is sharing a part of himself, a part which deserves to be seen, heard and respected. Whether through a workshop at school or on the streets for First Friday, AfA’s young artists demonstrate the power in finding your voice. At AfA, we remember what it feels like to be picked first, and we watch as youth experience that confirmation for the first time.

But it takes a team, a group to stand together and listen, to acknowledge, empower and show our youth that someone is on their team. If we are going to continue to create space for youth, we need you. Donating money for us to buy notebooks, bring in a guest speaker or fund a workshop is an investment in our youth and the importance of their voice. It shows them that someone is on their team. And as many of us can remember from school or gym class, there is no better feeling.

Our youth have shared a part of themselves with their community, and with you as our supporters and donors. Give back this holiday season, and let them know they are being heard.

If you want to make a real and tangible impact in the lives of Denver youth today, here are some ways you can show our youth how much you believe in them:

  • A one-time gift of $2,000 will support a year’s worth of weekly 2-hour workshops for a struggling young person.
  • A one-time gift of $5,000 will provide the cost of an 8-workshop program for 20 youth ($15/hr. per young person), which would include operating costs as well as program expenses.
  • 12 monthly donations of $100 or a one-time gift of $1,400 provides one-month’s rent (ooh, if 12 people did that…)
  • A one-time gift of $250 allows us to publish the youth poems from one 8-week session.
  • A one-time gift of $100 buys writing materials for two workshops.
  • A one-time donation of $50 allows us to bring a guest poet/artist to one workshop to inspire and encourage the youth in our programs.


Savannah3-minute poem by Savannah Arterburn

I get that you just want to impress
and not admit that you’re a mess.
I know ‘cause I can see the tears your soul disappears.
Beauty’s pain and beauty’s in everything
but we are just here to learn—
don’t forget to breathe.
If need be lean on me
and don’t forget what makes you, you.
It’s crazy but you don’t have to know exactly who you are
your friends will help with that part.
Feeling unnoticed is how you go
and it hurts ‘cause we all know.
You’re not alone with all your pain
forget the world just whip it all away.
You deserve it ‘cause it’s not about the surface
yes, you’re still perfect and always worth it.
So let me be your mirror so you can see a little clearer.
‘Cause you’re beautiful and you don’t even know.

Chantel – MHYC

PencilPaperPeople take one look at me
And mug me or say something smart
They judge me off of my exterior
Not knowing who I am
And what I’m really about
After getting to know me
I become someone
They will never want to let go

I want to know where I am going to take my children
And how we will get there
I want to know why there are so many
Sick twisted funkin’ nasty ass people
Who hurt others
I want to know why parents bail on their children
I want to know why God hasn’t allowed me to be taken
The many times I could have been
I want to know why I never got to know my father
And why he even left

I am ME!
I am Chantel
I don’t give a fuck about all the he says she say bullshit
Because I am not only a wonderful mother
But I am an awesome parent
I am the future for my children and their children
I am who I want to be
I will not let my past define me
Because I no longer live there
I am here today and will do the best
And give better to my children