Art from Ashes: giving youth on the streets a voice

12:01 PM, Feb 22, 2010   |    comments
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Orin spent a good chunk of 2009 sleeping on park benches. The 20-year-old admits he made it difficult on his parents. He ran away close to a half-dozen times.

When we caught up with him, he was living at Urban Peak in downtown Denver.

"I have gotten used to life out here. I've become a resourceful person," he said.

He has also become quite the poet.

"I just want everyone to know I have something to say," Orin said.

Every Tuesday night he and other residents at Urban Peak get their chance to do just that. It is part of a program called "Art from Ashes."

"These people have been wounded. Their voices have been stifled pretty much all of their lives," the program's activity director, Noelle Benjamin said. "They really do have so much to say and so much to give. By believing in themselves they may actually put their feet out there and do something different."

Benjamin calls it "therapeutic poetry." She gives the participants three minutes to come up with a poem. She then has each person step to the front of the room and read that poem out loud in front of the entire group.

"Hello, I'm Taylor," says one. The crowd then erupts in applause.

"Should I tell you about my life?" she says. "What about that one day when I held it together for you?" she asks, hinting at a past relationship.

"It's just so raw," says Taylor after his reading is over. "I don't have time to edit, no time to do any other stuff. It's just there. It's how I feel at that moment."

"For people who would normally be shy or sad or scared to say what they feel because of their experiences, this changes it completely," she adds.

Orin then steps to the front of the group. "Hi, I'm Orin," he says. The crowd erupts again.

"So while they kick back and relax, I'm out here breakin' my back just to make you people happy, get me goin' off the tracks," he says.

"They have a lot of guts to say it," Benjamin said. "I don't know if I'd have the guts to say what they say."

Benjamin says the program's success can be viewed in the amount of participation she sees. "It means so much just to get it all out," she said.

Orin agrees. "I'm trying to grow up. It's really, really hard, but I'm really trying this time," he said.

And now, he says, he's got the words to prove it.

(KUSA-TV © 2010 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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