Art from Ashes, Inc.

Art from Ashes (AfA) exists to empower struggling youth by providing creative programs that facilitate health and hope through expression, connection and transformation. Our programs create supportive opportunities for youth in underserved, vulnerable neighborhoods throughout Colorado.

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Kylee Wellons, Phoenix Rising Coordinator
Start Date: 2020

Kylee Wellons is a multifaceted visual and performance artist who engages her community as a Denver Mercury Poetry organizer, support advocate, and spoken word artist. She is inspired by resilience, altruism, and healing through art.

In 2016, Kylee began her journey with Art from Ashes when she joined the agency as a guest poet in youth workshops. AfA's mission inspired her to work with vulnerable populations within the Denver Metro Area. She has worked with various non-profit organizations including The Gathering Place, Art Restart, Poetry for Personal Power, Athena Project, Redline Art Gallery, and K Contemporary to organize, facilitate and showcase her talents.

Kylee is passionate about utilizing creativity as a tool for healing as it has provided her with a unique perspective on the importance and value of holding space.

Laura Peña, Lead Facilitator
Start Date: 2020

Laura is a Colorado native who grew up immersed in creative endeavors. Deeply involved in both theater and painting in her youth, she earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in painting and sociology from Western State University and has since become a well-known artist in the Denver area.

To expand her color palate and draw from life experience to inform her art, Laura spent a year in Florence, Italy, then four years in Chicago before moving back to Denver. Most recently, she has shown her abstract impressionistic work in Denver galleries and is published in both Neighborhood Collective as well as RAW.

Laura began serving as a volunteer at Art from Ashes in early 2019 and at the first opportunity began the Reigniting Your Creativity adult workshop series. After providing support for eight youth workshops as part of the introductory process, she was subsequently invited to train as a lead facilitator for youth workshops and was employed by AfA.

Laura loves sharing her background and experience with youth and is excited to become more involved in both the Drawing on Air and Phoenix Rising youth empowerment programs.

Sarah Lanzarotta, Director of Programs
Start Date: 2019

Sarah Lanzarotta began serving as a volunteer at Art from Ashes in May 2018 and was asked to train as a workshop facilitator. She finished her training and was hired as a Lead Facilitator and Program Manager in Jan 2019. Sarah has since become a full-time Director of Programs.

Sarah comes from a family of musicians, sculptors, writers, painters, photographers, and dancers. As a result, the arts have always had a place in her life. Sarah's personal mission is to give the gift of expression, empowerment, and self-confidence back to young people, just as many incredible adults did for her.

Sarah's passion for working with young people began as a teenager, when she began working at the local Boys and Girls Club in her small mountain town of Fairplay, Colorado. In recognition of her service, The Boys and Girls Club awarded her a $10,000 scholarship to attend Colorado Mesa University. She graduated from CMU in 2013 with a Bachelor's Degree in Dance. She continued to work with young people throughout college as a dance teacher, camp counselor and classroom assistant.

After graduating in 2013, Sarah moved to Denver where she danced professionally with several companies and began teaching throughout the Denver Metro Area. While working in the public school system, she was heartbroken to see how many young people did not have access to the arts due to school budget cuts and the high cost of extra-curricular activities. This led her to pursue a Master's Degree in Education and Human Development with hopes of closing this gap and giving the arts back to the young people who need it the most. She will graduate with her Master's Degree in May of 2019.

Sarah is overjoyed to be working with Art from Ashes and hopes to use her training to eventually launch the Wingspan program, facilitating body awareness and movement as a complementary program to Phoenix Rising.

Jessica Jarrard, Director of Operations
Start Date: 2019

Jessica was first introduced to Art from Ashes during a Phoenix Rising adult workshop at the Denver Public Library. She began volunteering at Art from Ashes in 2014 and served on the grant writing team as well as the communications team before joining the Board of Directors in 2017. In January 2019, Jessica became the Director of Operations at Art from Ashes and now oversees agency Financials, FunDevelopment, Events, and Volunteer efforts.

Jessica is a professional technical writer and editor and also a part-time faculty member at Metropolitan State University where she teaches Technical Writing for Translation. Throughout her career, she's gained experience in journalism, writing e-learning courses, sales, and event planning. She has always believed in the power of language and expression to not only communicate but to also shape our futures, both personally and professionally.

In 2006, she earned a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science at History at Western Carolina University in North Carolina. She's a currently member of the Boulder Writer's Alliance, the Editorial Freelancers Association, and the Society for Technical Communications, Rocky Mountain Chapter. For fun, Jessica enjoys creative writing, cooking, crafting, and hiking in the mountains of Colorado.

Catherine O'Neill Thorn, CEO/Executive Director
Start Date: 2004

Catherine O'Neill Thorn is the executive director of Art from Ashes, a Colorado nonprofit that empowers high-risk youth through therapeutic poetry and creative arts workshops. O'Neill Thorn has conducted sessions at numerous juvenile facilities since 1994, including residential treatment centers and day treatment programs, probation departments, high schools, youth groups and day camps. She established and ran weekly poetry therapy sessions for three years for Columbine students after the fatal shootings in 1999. Participating students gave a public reading attended by international media, and O'Neill Publishing produced "Screams Aren't Enough," a compilation of their poetry, which won the 2000 Colorado Book Award.

O'Neill Thorn also is a published poet, writer and journalist and was the proprietor of O'Neill Publishing Inc. for 12 years (Marketing, Graphic Design and Desktop Publishing). She was founding editor and publisher of "Poiesis," a bimonthly calendar and newsletter of poetry events for the state of Colorado from 1992 to 1996. In 1994 O'Neill Thorn established the award-winning weekly poetry series Toads in the Garden, held at The Daily Grind Coffee House in Denver. In 1996 the Colorado Council on the Arts and the Columbine Poetry Society awarded O'Neill Thorn a grant to publish "The Poiesis Poetry Guide for Colorado."

O'Neill Thorn has initiated numerous programs and events, including:

Songs in the Storm, a celebration of Colorado poetry, with more than 40 poets performing;
Exhibition Poetry Slam and Debate at the Town Hall Arts Center in Littleton;
Cafe as Teacher, poetry slam and debate at the City Spirit Cafe;
Going to Extremes, poetry therapy for young men in residential treatment;
1995 Thomas Hornsby Ferril Birthday Reading in support of a Colorado Poet Laureate, as well as subsequent readings to promote Ferril's work among Coloradoans;
the annual "Poiesis" poetry contest;
Third Thursday readings at Sweet Rockin' Coffee.

O'Neill Thorn was on the founding committee to elect the first Poet Laureate for the state of Colorado since the death of Thomas Hornsby Ferril in 1988, and she was poetry judge for both the 1994 Colorado Book Award, and judge for the 2007 Poetry Out Loud national contest for youth. Catherine also has served as the Colorado Council on the Arts coordinator for TumbleWords, a series of literary events designed to encourage audiences for literature throughout the West. She was the editor and publisher of "Inner 303," an arts & poetry magazine for Denver's urban youth, from 1997 to 2001, as well as the inspirational bookjournal for youth "Why Keep Tryin'? Voices from the Street" (2000).

In 2006 she was presented with the Community "Artivist" Award by the Pan African Arts Society for "years of consistent commitment to the urban art scene in the Denver Metro area," to those who work to encourage and support arts education, personal creativity and community engagement.

In 2008 she was chosen for the MasterMind award in literary arts by "Westword," for using poetry in the healing process for high-risk youth.

O'Neill Thorn is a member of the National Association for Poetry Therapy and of the Colorado Prevention Partners Coalition. She sat on the MMCYA Denver Selection Committee of the Downtown Denver Partnership and was a 2007 judge for the Colorado Poetry Out Loud competition among high school students.

MJ Smart, Other
Start Date: 2017

Originally a New York native, where she worked as a paralegal at a law firm, MJ relocated to Denver in 2015. She is currently studying Criminal Justice at CU Denver. As Director of Programs and Lead Facilitator, she is able to share her passion for artistic expression and personal empowerment with the young people she serves.

Her move to Denver brought upon a personal transformation and she now works with women in early recovery from alcoholism and drug addiction in addition to the youth she serves at Art from Ashes. Her love of working with young people drives her to create safe, inclusive environments where expression, connection and transformation are possible. Mj is a trained lead facilitator in Phoenix Rising, Art from Ashes's original poetry and spoken word curriculum, and Drawing on Air, the newer visual arts curriculum.

Marie Verrett, Other
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Celeste Seiler, Deputy Director
Start Date: 2019

Celeste Seiler has been involved with Art from Ashes since September 2017. She started as a volunteer, before beginning an internship in January 2018, and is now Deputy Director.

Celeste graduated in July 2018 with a Bachelor of Science degree for Individualized Studies: Social Outreach Services, and a minor in Studio Art, from Metropolitan State University of Denver. A published poet and journalist, Celeste has been creating works of art in various mediums since she was in grade school. In addition to art and journalism, her array of knowledge stems from architecture, education, mental health counseling, and management.

Her passion to serve youth on a more personal level was realized during a four-year break from school, while laying a foundation in her new role as mother. During this time, she dove deep into her emotional past and finally understood the story that brought her to the present. Celeste aims to take her soul-searching experience and share it with struggling youth, so that they too can embrace their true selves and grow into a future they determine.

When Celeste is not at Art from Ashes, you can find her in the kitchen, cooking and baking for anyone wanting to share a meal with her and her family. She also enjoys travelling and gardening. Her compassion extends beyond human beings and enters the realm of animal welfare. Most of all, she desires to live in a world where acceptance, empathy, and love rule.

Lisa Lee, Other
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John Ensslin, Other
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John Harder, Other
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Chris Loffelmacher, Other
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David Rothman, Other
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Mark Forrest Bell, Other
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Beverly Barber, Other
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Charles DeSaussure, Other
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Alan Frosh, Other
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Rachel Julkowski, Other
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Debra A. Porter, Other
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Nonprofit completed the Colorado Nonprofit Association's Excellence in Principles & Practices Recognition Program?



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