Welcome to the Social Circus Foundation Blog!

The Social Circus Foundation INC will raise funds to support programs using circus as tools for social change and in medical settings.  Many of the people served have limited resources clearinghouse for scholarships and to educate and study the application of circus to mental and physically disabled.

BOARD CHAIR: Dave Schroeder a lifetime resident of Ludlow, KY. Dave is the executive director of the Kenton County Library system.  This role has lead to countless community connections and service opportunities.

Jene Galvin spent decades working with Cincinnati Public Schools  developing non traditional learning environments.  His son-in-law is a former Cirque du Soleil performer.

Renee Harris has spent the past 25 years balancing a career in business and the arts.  She worked as a full-time music teacher at two area high schools as well as managed operations for a scrap metal recycling company and a funeral home.

Sara Warner is a recreation therapist with the Children’s Home of Northern Kentucky.  She has published a book that includes circus as a tool to be considered for Rec Therapy.

Anteneh Hameso (Meshu), originally from Awassa, Ethiopia Mehus has been living in the USA for the last four years. At the age of eight, he joined and helped found Debub Nigat (The Circus of the Southern Dawn), the brainchild of Berekit Dana, a Red Cross employee who had the idea to bring the circus to Awassa to help kids find focus and learn skills. Debub Nigat performed at markets throughout Awassa, the capital city in Southern Ethiopia. They created a partnership with medical group TENA TBIKA , a public health group that sponsored a van and hired a driver to transport the circus to perform all over Ethiopia. They began performing circuses to draw giant crowds to raise awareness for vaccination efforts and to eliminate female genital mutilation. Since moving to Chicago, he has done work with the Chicago Waldorf School, DaVinci Waldorf School, Mundelein, IL. CircEsteem, Inc, Chicago, IL Circus Pimparello, Stuttgart, Germany. Meshu is the founder of the Kibera Social Circus, which sits in the largest urban slum in Africa just outside Nairobi, Kenya. He is skilled in choreography, tumbling, sport acro, and juggling. Meshu and Paul Miller have joined to create the Social Circus Foundation to fund this work .

The Corporation intends to provide three main programs that will use the circus as a tool for social change and in medical settings:

1-   Approximately one-third (1/3) of the Foundation’s attention will be focused on using circus to improve the lives of the mentally and physically disabled. The Foundation has already partnered with Children’s Hospital of Cincinnati, Ohio to provide programming for hospitalized children, and hopes to expand to other medical non-profits in the future.

2-   Another approximately one-third (1/3) of the Foundation’s attention will be focused on vocational training. The Foundation will provide will provide job training and skill sets focused on the circus industry to the underprivileged in an effort to give them the tools they need to sustain livelihood and be productive members of society.

3-   The remaining one-third (1/3) of the Foundation’s attention will be focused on education. Specifically, the foundation will study the impact of social circus in medical settings and as a tool for social change. The data collected will be used to study impact of circus on an individual’s mental and physical health, and to support social circus work in group homes, detention centers, and medical facilities.

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Join the Circus, See the World: Jean-Tae’s Circus Tour

The Social Circus Connection:


Amy Chen ~ Cirque Devou 2010

Circus is truly a universal language.  The passion for the art and the ability it has to bridge age, language, ability and location is what brings people to the circus and brings passionate instructors and artists together for a greater good. The social circus concept is a tool used around the world helping marginalized people unlock their talent, confidence, drive and spirit using circus arts as the key.  Paul Miller and Amy Chen have been involved with social circus efforts together and separately for over a decade.

Amy Chen, trapeze artist, juggler, acrobat, and fire breather is currently Circus Coach and Coordinator with THE POINT Community Development Corporation which is dedicated to youth development and the cultural and economic revitalization of the Hunts Point section of the South Bronx.  THE POINT brings the circus to the South Bronx through one-of-a-kind Cirque du Monde  social circus workshops and live circus performances. Cirque du Monde is the outreach arm of Cirque du Soleil.

Social Circus at Work: Jean-Tae’s Story

In August, thirteen members of Circus Mojo had a three-week international exchange in Southwest Germany with Circus Pimparello, a German youth circus that has been a partner for nearly ten years. Our troupe learned, taught and performed alongside Circus Pimparello in a variety of venues from outside the Stuttgart Opera House to inside the CircArtive House at their headquarters. Jean-Tae Francis, a nineteen-year-old who studies circus arts in the Bronx, was part of our troupe. Here is his story:

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Cirque Devou 2014 ~ Jean-Tae with Amy Chen and Omar Rodriguez from The Point in The Bronx

I am originally from Antigua, a tiny country in the Caribbean. In 2009, I moved to Newark, NJ, and I now live in Brooklyn. I have been in the circus for four years at THE POINT in The Bronx under the coaching of Amy Chen. The first specific skill I focused on was juggling, and I recently took up the diabolo. Amy is not only an amazing coach but also an amazing person. We have become very close over the past year and I consider her to be one of my best friends.  She pushes me to work hard and challenge myself. I admire her as a mentor, value her as a friend and feel blessed to have her in my life.

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Jean-Tae and Circus Mojo founder Paul Miller

Amy was the reason I was able to connect with Circus Mojo and Paul Miller. Circus Mojo is definitely a cool place and I love working with the kids there. Paul is a highly energetic and crazy-funny guy, but, hey, he’s a clown!

Performing in Cirque Devou with Circus Mojo and the Northern KY Symphony Orchestra was a summer highlight. Until then, I hadn’t performed in front of more than 20 people; during that weekend, I went from a crowd of 20 to an audience of around 3,000.

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Jean-Tae and his German instructors.

After Cirque Devou, Circus Mojo invited me to tour Germany and Denmark. Being in Europe for the first time and training with Circus Pimparello’s talented coaches, Stefan and Tobias, elevated my skills and opened my eyes to a new world. The language barrier in Germany made things hard at first, but sleeping in a tent on cold nights was harder. I didn’t pack for the weather, but I survived.

During my final week in Germany, I was made a Teamer, a leader and instructor for the younger campers, and given many responsibilities. I grew a lot from this challenging experience and had a chance to perform in Stuttgart, a city way cleaner than the Bronx or Brooklyn. I’m still trying to wrap my head around the fact that there are hardly any trashcans in Germany and no trash at all on the ground.

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Jean-Tae practices diabolo in the shade of the Pimparello tents.

Sandwiched between my stay in Germany was my week-long adventure in Denmark at Circus Fabrikken, founded by Einar Trie. Einar was a pleasure to work with, and the Circus Fabrikken kids were spectacular at the silks, trapeze and contortion. Magne, my diabolo partner, manages to be the only boy in a circus of 14 girls. Kudos. We created an act in about 30 minutes and I was impressed with how good it was. I plan to hang out with Circus Fabrikken again when they visit Chicago and Circus Mojo in mid-October. Looking forward to our performance!

I loved it in Europe, but there’s no place like NYC. Everyone at The Point treats each other like family and I felt like family right away. I appreciate what they do for the community and hope to be with them for many more years. I want to watch them grow and be part of the change.


Paul Miller has been using the concepts of social circus in Ludlow, Kentucky and the surrounding areas since Circus Mojo’s inception in 2009.The Social Circus Foundation (SCF), the non-profit arm of Circus Mojo, has been chosen by Cirque du Soleil as a beneficiary of their social outreach program. Cirque du Soleil is dedicated to using social circus around the globe and Miller has had a relationship with Cirque du Soleil since 2003 . The SCF has been given 100 tickets to Cirque du Soleil’s upcoming Varekai at The Bank of Kentucky Center on October 17, 2014.   Funds raised from ticket sales will directly support after-school programming in Ludlow and the Greater Cincin.  Tickets are available at circusmojo.com.

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Join the Circus… See the World… Or, Tate’s First Trip on a Plane

In August, thirteen members of Circus Mojo had a three-week international exchange in Southwest Germany with Circus Pimparello, a German youth circus that has been a partner for nearly ten years. Our troupe learned, taught and performed alongside Circus Pimparello in a variety of venues from outside the Stuttgart Opera House to inside the CircArtive House at their headquarters. Tate, a fourteen-year-old girl who attends Ludlow High School, was part of our troupe. Here is her story:

When I joined Circus Mojo in my Ludlow neighborhood three years ago,  after-school on Saturdays and over summer camp, I had no idea that the circus would give me such amazing experiences or take me to such amazing places like Germany.

Tate wire

Before this summer, I had never flown in a plane, let alone flown in a plane out of the country. My first flight was thrilling!

Tate on Plane

It was nothing like I had imagined. I felt both nervous and excited as we took off. The turbulence was better than expected but sometimes scary, especially when the plane would turn on an angle. From my window seat, I saw the sun set and rise and reflect off the Atlantic. I saw hills, fields and cities: Cincinnati, New York and Stuttgart (even Ludlow).

My favorite part of the flight was passing through clouds and seeing snowflakes form on the window.  I took some great pictures though with a fancy camera my sister let me borrow for the trip.I even videotaped the takeoff and landing!


Once I arrived in Germany, the real fun started. I learned to lie down on the tightwire and get back up without placing my hands on the wire or using them to balance. I also learned to ride a unicycle backwards and had the chance to work on the diabolo, trapeze, rolla bolla and German wheel.

On our last day at Circus Pimparello, I performed on the silks, unicycle and Tightwire. I even used a GoPro while performing on the silks, but as I did my drop, the GoPro flew off my head and landed on the mat below. Despite this mishap, this was my best performance.

Tate Stuttgart opera

One of my best days at Circus Pimparello was “American Day.” We had a big brunch, relaxed, played games and, top on the list, ate hamburgers made by Pauly and Jesse, a former Circus Mojo staff member who now lives in Germany. All the Germans made us Americans feel special. I am so happy for the friends and memories I made on this trip.

Screen Shot 2014-09-17 at 4.27.26 PMTate is a participant in the Circus Scholastics Program,  a free after school program offering circus training and homework help to youth in Ludlow, KY.  We have created the Social Circus Foundation INC a registered  non-profit 501c3 arm to raise funds to support kids like Tate.

Linking circus training and goals for higher education: Read about Tate’s trip sponsored by the Social Circus Fund to visit Illinois State University.  Thanks to Nena Woo, a first generation college grad, who apprenticed with the circus in Ludlow.

Cirque du Soleil has donated 100 tickets to Varekai at the Bank of Kentucky Center on 10.17.2014 at 7:30pm. 100% of the proceeds will support the  Circus Scholastics Program.  Click to purchase tickets or to make a donation.

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Circus at Clovernook Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired ~ Cincinnati, Ohio

My name is Sharon and I am from Mexico City. Over the past 4 years that I have worked with Circus Mojo, I have taught thousands of people circus skills like silks, juggling, globe walking and more. Working with visually impaired kids in circus skills is one of my favorite things about my job as a circus trainer. 

This is the fifth time we have brought a circus workshop to Clovernook Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired. We began the workshop with a few games, played Name and Sound, a game we adapted from our regular training where kids say their name and do something and then everybody else repeats it. In this case we had people say their name and make a sound that everyone would repeat and it was lots of fun!

Every time before introducing a new skill in the class we did a little exercise where everybody got to feel whatever prop we were about to use and we explained how it worked or why it was shaped that way. An example of that activity was when we introduced the rolling globe, everybody had the chance to feel it and then rolled it to somebody else.blind globe

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I think my favorite skill to teach to visually impaired people is the spinning plates because they get really curious about what makes the plate spin or why it is shaped the way it is. They can also focus more on the feeling and not on watching it like every other person does, which makes it easier for them to learn.

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They are the best at listening and the most courageous people we work with because they do things that even people that can see are many times afraid to do.

Another really interesting skill to teach to them is the Diabolo or Chinese yo-yo because most of the times people have a hard time getting it going and the momentum needed seems to be always the problem. But again, for the visually impaired kids their listening skills and getting the feeling helps them big time. They know exactly when they are doing it right and the yo-yo is spinning or when it’s stopped and they need to start it again.

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I have had the chance to work in some occasions with visually impaired kids at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and it has been a great experience. It is also very special when I get to see the same patient more than once and we create a good relationship with them trying different tricks every time. For example there is a boy I have seen in many occasions and we started by just spinning a plate on his finger but now every time I see him we try something different and he even requests us to visit him in his room when he has an appointment. We have done all sorts of tricks with him including plate spinning, juggling and even feather balancing. Which sounds almost impossible since you have to look at the top to balance but he focuses so hard on feeling the feather move that he gets it to balance.

plate foot

Most would think circus with the blind and visually impaired is impossible… Well that is the business of the circus, bringing the impossible to be! 

We are working to prove the impossible and have been utilizing surveys from A Guide to the Study of the Wellbeing Effects of Circus: A Publication of the Centre for Practise as Research in Theatre by the University of Tampere Finland. Have a look at the report for the young people as well as the teachers from our visit to Clovernook in July 2014.  



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A Lost Boy from Sudan, a Gang and a Circus

Circus Mojo:

Seven years ago today Khalid was lost to gang violence.

Originally posted on Social Circus Foundation INC:

Listen to the story here on Chicago Public Radio Archive

If you’d like to read more about Khalid, click here to purchase an essay written by best-selling author Alex Kotlowitz.

Or read more about Khalid’s Mother Afaf’s experience on PBS/Frontline Website.

Today, July 7, 2012, marks the six-year anniversary of Khalid Mohammed’s death. On July 6, 2009, Jorge Pena, a member of a gang called the Maniac Latin Disciples, was found guilty of the murder of Khalid. I spent July 1 and 2, 2009 with Afaf Ahmed, Khalid’s mother, at the courthouse in Chicago to lend support in her time of need. Her strength serves as an inspiration during these difficult times and reminds me of what truly matters in life.

Khalid’s story reminds all of us what is at stake for many of the kids I served in Chicago and try to here in Cincinnati. He joined the circus in…

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How Do You Join a Circus?

Circus Mojo:

Cherie Dawn has been an enormous guide in the development of Circus Mojo & the Social Circus Fund. She is a fantastic dancer, performer, editor, connector & FRIEND! Bravo… My favorite class with her was with a group of juvenile felons in Ludlow KY and wow did we have fun!

Originally posted on Cherie Dawn Loves Fire:

So you want to join a circus. This question recently came up when I was giving a presentation on being a fire eater/performer/writer/reader to a teen group at the Franklin County Library in Brooksville, Indiana.

After talking about my experiences and answering questions from a small but engaged audience of tweens, a parent approached me. She looked to be about my age, and asked if it’s really possible to join a circus. “Can it be a real job?” She asked me. My answer, at first, was that it depends. When she clarified that she was asking for her ambitious 12-year-old daughter who excelled at gymnastics and dreamed of doing cirque for a living, I knew that I had driven 90 minutes to this library, on this day, for a reason.

Cherie Dawn discussing circus arts with youth

“Don’t try this at home, kids.” :)

A good friend of mine is living proof that you can join the…

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College Circus Brings Hope to Kids’ Futures! By Nena Woo

10154923_10152322534448758_5131531566578322557_nThe trip to Illinois State University and the Gamma Phi Circus on April 11th sparked a fire of inspiration in the six Circus Mojo kids that Dr. Louis Kutcher and I chaperoned. Many of them come from low-income families and have never seen a college campus. Some of them experience the struggles of a small community and bullying for being different. The trip to ISU opened their eyes to a new world of possibility. As a previous admissions counselor and mentor for many youth, I must admit, I have never been so impressed with the enthusiasm and engagement of young students on a college campus. The day began with a five hour drive and ended with a desire for going to college and joining a collegiate circus.

Since we arrived on campus early and weather was beautiful, the kids started their day practicing circus on the quad. They juggled, hula hooped, and unicycled together around ISU’s collection of trees and campus features.

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Lunch was provided at Watterson Dining Center by Arlene Hosea, Assistant to the Vice President for Student Affairs & Director of Campus Dining Services. The students enjoyed the newly renovated dining center set up buffet style offering a variety of selections including pizza and hamburgers, salads and homestyle foods, to special ethnic selections. Since I am an ISU graduate and former Gamma Phi Circus participant, they got a head start on their questions about being a college student and being a part of the Gamma Phi Circus.

After lunch, the students received an official admissions presentation by Rachel Caracci, Assistant Director of Admissions at ISU. They learned about requirements for getting into ISU and what the university has to offer. Each student brought a list of questions they had created before the trip which they wasted no time sharing with Mrs. Caracci. I’ve never seen junior high school students so engaged for a college admissions presentation. We took them on a campus and residence hall tour where they asked many more relevant questions.

Following the tour we stopped at ISU’s Special Collections at Milner Library. Circus Now’s Online Director, Rainie Themer works in Special Collections and shared historic circus artifacts including Tom Thumb’s “Tiny Tim” wife’s shoes and gloves and photos of the Gamma Phi Circus in its beginnings. They also learned about early American circus and viewed books and photos of traditional circus performers.

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Around 5 p.m. we picked up our dinner donated by Avanti’s Italian Restaurant, an ISU community favorite, and brought it to Redbird Arena for a backstage tour of the Gamma Phi Circus. The Circus Mojo kids expressed anticipation and excitement for meeting the Gamma Phi performers since the initial planning of the trip. The tour led by Director Marcus Alouan and contributing performers was the highlight of the day for the kids.


One of the junior high students stood with a notebook in her hand going down a list of questions she had been preparing for weeks to ask the Gamma Phi Circus performers. Another, 6th grader, smiled and whispered to me “This is weird, I feel like we’re VIP.” This made me smile and realize how important this exposure was in the formation of these kids’ futures. It may be their first inspiration of seeing a college education along with their passion for circus as a reachable opportunity.


The Gamma Phi Circus provided us with excellent seats for their evening performance. I watched the glitter in the Circus Mojo kids’ eyes as they watched the college performers in awe of their flips, balancing acts, strength, collaboration, and professionalism. One student expressed her opinion that she enjoyed watching the college students over Ringling and was excited to know that it was an opportunity she could take advantage of after high school.

After the show, the kids met more performers and had their programs signed. They talked about their favorite acts and learned that the Gamma Phi performers were average college students pursuing degrees in many different fields including accounting, education, theatre, and biology. As we walked back to our vehicles, I could see the admiration for the performers and inspiration they felt as they shared their favorite events of the day and interesting facts they learned. 10153919_10152322535813758_2569549224375806294_n

I cannot say “thank you” enough to our sponsors and the people that helped make this trip happen (Arlene Hosea, Pam Woo, Avanti’s Italian Restaurant, the Gamma Phi Circus, ISU Admissions, ISU Special Collections, Dr. Louis Kutcher, Trader Joe’s, Krogar, and Riverside Marketplace) including parents and supporters. We are so grateful at Circus Mojo and the Social Circus Foundation to have offered this opportunity to the young Circus Mojo students. It has proven to have an impact on their lives and their perception of the opportunities available to them. As a professional and an advocate of social circus, this trip was one of the most inspiring events of my career.


Nena Woo

More photos of the trip can be seen on Circus Mojo’s Facebook page.

Join us for the 2nd Annual International College Circus Festival (May 16-18, 2014) hosted by The Social Circus Foundation and Circus Mojo offers students the chance to show off their skills and connect with a community of students and professionals who share a passion for circus arts. The weekend program includes performances to entertain families, networking, workshops, professional guidance and career opportunities. The festival provides vocational training and education focused on the circus industry for students, including those underprivileged, giving them the tools they need to sustain livelihood and be productive members of society.


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World Circus Day ~ From the Democratic Republic of the Congo to Ludlow, Kentucky USA

Chance Sumuni says that Circus empowers him, specifically when he speaks, people listen and are interested in his story; he enjoys the community of old friends and the ever growing list of new friends. 1979274_355808951226585_1086887936_o

“Thank you to the US government for taking in refugees.”

“I’m grateful to my first coach, Josef, for teaching me and empowering me through circus.”

“Thank you Sister Mary and Catholic Charities Cincinnati for putting me in contact with Paul and Circus Mojo and for continuing to help all people, but especially refugees.”

“Thank you Paul for taking me in like family and making me very happy. Thank you for continuing to teach me circus skills and for teaching me to help others with circus.”

Chance wants to tell the world that if you want something you shouldn’t listen to all those who tell you you can’t. He wants to encourage everyone to take a chance and follow your dreams because, “If you want to do something, you just do it.”


This is the story of Chance Sumuni: Chance was born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo January 1st ,1993 and spent only three years of his childhood there before he and his family (Mother Avijawa, Dad Babu, Siblings Dnaile, Sifa, Ezekiel, Pierre, Happy and Uncle Baruti) escaped to Tanzania in 1996. They fled war, making what Chance describes as a ‘dangerous journey’ to Lac Tanganyika and crossing by boat over the Tanzanian border as refugees. His family joined a refugee camp, supported by the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees-UNCHR.


Chance grew up in a refugee camp in Tanzania speaking four languages. All his schooling was done in French, communicating with the Tanzanians in Swahili, and speaking with his family and other refugees in two of Congo’s languages, Kimembe and Kifuliro.

Every day after school, Chance met his neighbor and coach, Josef, for circus practice. He studied acrobatics and clowning and as he progressed in his skills and grew older, caught the attention of the YNC~ Young Negro Circus.

The YNC, a group of talented refugees from the same camp, invited their friend Josef and through Josef, Chance, for a collaboration. Chance recalls being involved in forming the group,  and helping name it. Once formed and with a few shows completed, the YNC sent a representative to a UNCHR office to ask for support. The support was granted and the UNCHR sponsored the circus, paying for travel across Africa .



Over the next few years Chance and four other specially chosen members of the YNC traveled to Ghana, Cameroon, and Nigeria, flying over waring lands to bring the joy and distraction of the circus. While on tour they met other circuses, performing for and with them, connecting and collaborating before returning to the camp in Tanzania. He remembers performing his first big show in 2010, “I felt very special, receiving a lot of complements after the show and seeing so many people smiling and laughing.”



When Chance’s family was cleared to relocate to America, he had to say good bye to his fellow performers and friends at the YNC. Fluent in four languages but armed only with the basics in English, he and his family made the three day journey from Tanzania to Kenya, Kenya to Switzerland, Switzerland to Newark NY, and Newark to Cincinnati in 2012.

The Catholic Charities in Cincinnati sponsored Chance’s family and Sister Mary became case manager for Chance and his family.

He’s working on his fifth language, English, and goes to class every Tuesday and Thursday. He goes to local hospitals and performs for the families there—one of his favorite experiences with Circus Mojo. 1525706_10152077425853758_862773472_n

If you would like to support CHANCE and his journey please consider a tax deductible contribution HERE.

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