My name is Caroline O’Connell and I grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio. I lived in Cincinnati until 2013 when I moved to Boulder to attend CU for college. I just graduated with my bachelor’s degree in English Literature. Last semester, I interned at Art From Ashes in Denver, Colorado. Art From Ashes is a youth empowerment nonprofit organization. We exist to empower struggling youth by providing creative programs that facilitate health and hope through expression, connection, and transformation.

Currently, I co-facilitate a workshop at Children’s Hospital in Aurora. These youth are receiving inpatient care and some of them are terminally ill. After my first workshop with the youngest group (7-12 years old) I felt extraordinary blessed to be a part of their young lives. These young people are dealt difficult cards in life; some will never be able to walk to write on their own. But they do not let these disadvantages bring down their morale. They are warriors, smiling while sharing their poetry with the group. They are warriors who will not let their disabilities determine their destiny. Their strength is heard in their voices as they speak into the microphone, they sound like quivering young birds trying to fly away from their nest. I want to see them soar. My goal is to help them see how they can use poetry and art as tools for self-expression. However, I think they have taught me more than I could ever teach them. After that workshop I realized not only how fortunate I am, but also how much I take for granted. I suffer from various health issues, and sometimes I find myself wallowing in self-pity. But after one workshop with these young people, I am able to see the light. No matter how ill these youth are, they wear resilience like armor. So often do I let my problems weigh me down, clogging my mind and conversations. These young people lift me up by reminding me how beautiful life can be if we just allow ourselves to see it.

At every Art From Ashes workshop, we have a guest poet perform in the beginning and at the end. After their performance the youth are invited to ask the poet any questions they may have. At this particular workshop, a folk singer preformed some songs for the youth. After he finished, a boy in a wheelchair said, “Your voice sounds as if you are singing at the top of a mountain.” The guest poet was very grateful for such a wonderful compliment. But for me this statement resonated on a very personal level. I believe that every young person has a voice that deserves to be heard. My dream is for all youth to think of themselves as a strong mountain, able to endure any challenge that comes their way. It doesn’t matter how physically strong someone is, strength is seen in the ability to overcome obstacles. And these young people have overcome more than most adults ever will. So every time I feel overwhelmed with life, I think about the young people at Children’s hospital, and I feel inspired to push forward.

None of this would have been possible without my involvement with CU English Internships. I am forever thankful that my English internship brought me to Art From Ashes. CU provided me with an internship that did not end when the semester was over. I not only found a career path, but also a home. I found what I want to do for the rest of my life: helping others with words. I want to devote my life to serve those who are struggling. Even if it means just smiling and asking someone how their day is going. I would not have been able to reach this conclusion without my involvement with CU English internships.