Playing with fire.

Okay, it’s not playing– it’s learning with fire. But try telling that to the at-risk youth that show up at GlassRoots Studio after school and on weekends to practice the art of glassmaking. Fire is dangerous, exciting and fascinating – and poses an irresistible allure to kids. So with brilliant intuition and passion, in January 2001, Rutgers business professor Patricia Kettenring decided to use the lure of fire to capture the attention and bring out the best in underprivileged students in Newark, New Jersey…using a little GlassRoots activism.

Beautiful expressions of talent from GlassRoots studio.

Newark is not a glamorous city, it’s a gritty city. A full 36% of children live below the poverty line; it was called “The Most Dangerous City in America” in 1996; and 5 of its last 7 mayors have been indicted on criminal charges. But good things are happening in Newark – thanks to a brilliant new mayor in Cory Booker, a turnaround in violence (it’s down dramatically) and a upturn in education: Newark’s moved from a graduation rate of 28% for young black males to an encouraging 76%. And GlassRoots is part of that good news.

Jason Minami, teacher, with Amira (now in college at Seton Hall) and NyShon at the furnace.

Giving kids ages 10-18 a place to find themselves, learn about the arts and business, and create something beautiful, GlassRoots has trained over 3,500 children in the various techniques of glass making since Kettenring opened the doors of the studio. As the only non-profit “hot shop” (meaning the 2000-degree furnace keeps glass in a liquid state for blowing, shape and forming) in the New York metro area, GlassRoots offers classes in flameworking, kilnforming, lampworking, casting and glassblowing — along with an unbreakable conviction of what art can bring to a community.

Look what we made!

The kids come in hoping to get the chance to torch something– and end up learning patience, teamwork, discipline, business skills—and the great, beautiful things they’re capable of achieving. Through the Nifty Program, students and interns progress from making beads to blowing glass, but they are also trained to write business plans for the products they produce, present them to business leaders in the community, and attend art shows to sell their works – helping them achieve financial literacy and entrepreneurial confidence, as well as artistic prowess.

Dion creating his glass art.

The classes are offered at little or no cost for at-risk youth (in exchange for them volunteering or interning), but the studio offers income-producing workshops for adults, summer camps, weekend classes, and creates commissioned works of art that help fund the mission. In fact, this year GlassRoots has been commissioned to produce a huge 80′ x 20′ mosaic mural for the Greater Newark Conservancy – so the kids will be leaving a permanent record of their achievement on the city. What a cool legacy!

Express yourself!

For being on fire to help the young people of Newark, and giving them both the gift of creative self-expression and the tools for achievement, my $100 donation today goes to GlassRoots. To join me in supporting this uplifting venture, click here. Or to attend the 10th Anniversary Gala honoring retiring founder Patricia Kettenring on October 6, click here.