CHICAGO -- Founder Trish Tullman Atha of Ignition Community Glass (ICG) doesn't mind putting 4,000-degree torches in the hands of teens not old enough to vote yet.
"They sort of stand back, and they say 'wait, you're going to trust me with this?,'" said Tullman Atha. "Just that alone, that someone actually trusts you with 2,000-degree molten glass. They see the possibility within themselves."
Non-profit Ignition Community Glass was founded nine years ago to help educate teens in underserved communities in Chicago about the art and science of glassmaking. Tullman Atha says with the help of a high school teacher, her son Ben Tullman discovered the medium and changed the trajectory of his life.
"The teacher called and said, 'I'm worried about your beautiful boy, and I think I can help,'" said Tullman Atha. "That teacher was a glass blower."
Twelve years ago Ben Tullman co-founded Ignite Glass Studios (IGS) in Chicago's West Loop, a gallery, artist incubation space and production facility for glasswork. Art lovers can purchase sculptures and vessels at the studio's gallery in the front of the building while torches, annealers and a 2,000-degree furnace burn brightly in the back. Ignition Community Glass rents space in the location for its programs in partnership with IGS.
"We make custom orders, and we do a lot of work with local restaurants," said Eleanor Harvey, an artist at IGS and instructor with the non-profit. "Right now we're working on a big order for an essential oil company."
Trish Tullman Atha said Ignition Community Glass was birthed out of Ignite Glass Studios because she knew there were teens like her son who could find healing through glassmaking.
"The light bulb went off and I said, 'Whoa, let's do youth programming,'" said Tullman Atha. "I really felt like there were other young people besides Ben that were struggling mightily in their lives."
Jalen Pittman said he made a full 360-degree turn after participating in Ignition Studio Glass's After School Matters program in high school. He now works at IGC as a teaching artist and says he's happy where he's at.
"Glass is intimidating at first," said Pittman, speaking of the medium's unpredictability. "Sometimes we get those happy accidents and that's just like the beauty of being a glass artist."
Students who participate in ICG's programs can learn about glass blowing, fused glass and advanced learners study flameworking: using a torch and glass rods to create unique pieces. Tullman Atha said thousands of students have engaged ICG and many standouts have gone on to pursue fine arts degrees to work as professional glass artists. She expressed her excitement about the future of ICG and glassmaking's power to unleash creativity and confidence in young people so they can reach their full capability in life.
"The transformation that can happen; forged in heat, forged in challenges and adversity, and then what can come from it," said Tullman Atha. "(When) they can see their full potential, the magic happens."
For more information on Ignition Community Glass, visit icg-chicago.org.