N’Kosi Barber, a glassblowing teacher at a studio on the West Side of Chicago, understands that glass is at once fragile and powerful. Barber has been blowing glass for 10 years, practicing the art with patience. “Your 11th year of blowing glass is actually your first,” Barber tells Justin Agrelo. “It takes a full decade to memorize its steps and to perfect your groove.” In the studio’s safe and supportive space, young victims of gun violence come to learn how to blow glass in a trauma recovery program called Project Fire. They practice a new—and delicate and challenging—skill, work with and learn to trust others, and learn to regulate their emotions. Agrelo offers an uplifting piece on Barber and this program’s efforts in a city plagued by gun violence.

The act of blowing glass, too, offers important lessons of its own. The risk of getting burned while working with molten glass requires participants to rely on each other for safety. That can mean using a wooden panel to shield your partner from the heat of a glowing orb of lava. Or it can be a simple spoken warning of “behind you” while carrying something hot across the studio floor. Glassblowing is a team effort, says Karen Benita Reyes, executive director of Firebird Community Arts. The technique fosters trust among survivors who may be struggling with that after they’ve been injured. It also teaches survivors how to cope with loss and disappointment. Sometimes students will spend hours on a piece, and in an instant, their hard work is lying across the ground in a thousand shards.

Cheri has been an editor at Longreads since 2014. She's currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area.