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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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.

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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.

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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.

 

Gratefully,
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.”

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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.

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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 .

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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.”

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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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Runaway to College and join the Circus! By Nena Woo

As associate producer of the 2nd Annual International College Circus Festival in Ludlow, KY and coach at Circus Mojo, I am motivated to help kids see the opportunities to achieve their dreams. Two months ago I started as a tightwire coach. 1959711_10152204751108758_482644982_n-2In a short amount of time I learned much about the everyday struggles and personal dreams for several of the Ludlow circus students who live below the poverty level. Inside and outside of circus practice I built a level of trust with them and am now acting as a college mentor. Our conversations have inspired me to plan an educational trip for these kids to Illinois State University.

Along with Dr. Louis Kutcher from the University of Cincinnati, I will take six Circus Mojo students grades 6-12 on a college field trip on Friday, April 11th – Saturday, April 12th.

The overnight itinerary includes:

  • Free tickets to the Gamma Phi Circus (the oldest collegiate circus in North America) with a backstage tour
  • Official admissions presentation with a campus and residence hall tour
  • Visit to ISU’s Special Collections
  • Meals provided by ISU’s Campus Dining Services, Avanti’s Italian Restaurant, Krogar, and Trader Joe’s

1796616_10152204747323758_297283133_nHaving worked both in college admissions and circus training for youth, I have seen how circus has impacted kids physically, mentally, and academically. I worked for Circus Mojo and the Social Circus Foundation, Meirmanov Sports Acrobatics, Trapeze School New York Chicago, the Junior Gamma Phi Circus, and the Skokie Park District Circus Camp, and performed with the Gamma Phi Circus, Circo Rose and the Acrofabulous Circus. Through my career in admissions and free time, I have mentored, academically coached, and advised students on preparing for and successfully completing college.

My struggles as a first generation, low-income college student have motivated me to expose opportunities and strategies to kids that lack the resources that provide college as an option. Illinois State University and the Gamma Phi Circus are my alma maters. As the first in my family, I graduated from ISU with a degree in public relations and experience as the Gamma Phi Circus’s first PR intern, president of 2011, act captain, and other leadership roles.

10006438_10152313719337328_15732258_nFor the Circus Mojo students, I hope to grow their interest in attending college and understanding the opportunity to earn a degree while practicing something they are passionate about, circus. Students have already expressed enthusiasm for the trip in their numerous questions about college, ISU, and the Gamma Phi Circus. On Wednesday, a few of the students on spring break spent two hours at Circus Mojo asking questions about ISU and watching my videos of the Gamma Phi Circus. My intention is to encourage students to understand the importance of preparing for their futures before and during their high school careers. It is very fulfilling to see kids as young as 6th grade get excited about discovering college as a fun opportunity to strive for. I truly believe the trip to ISU will enlighten the Circus Mojo kids and spark a fire in their hearts to believe in themselves and achieve their dreams. 1533881_10152077423948758_1694004356_n

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Clowns Have to Eat: Jesse Dascola on Circus and Culinary

Jesse Dascola shares her once-in-a-lifetime experience of traveling to Germany to study circus. Every other year, Circus Mojo students participate in this unique opportunity. To learn more and help more local youth tour to Germany, click here.

Six years ago I joined the circus when I was in 8th grade.  At that point in life I was your typical kid who would get through school and then go home, play video games and watch TV. Little did I know that would change when I joined the circus.  Looking back upon my time in the circus and the y8th grade globe actears I took off from it, I really see the changes and impact it had on me. When I was 14  I can’t think of anything special or really creative that I did before joining circus. Once I joined the circus I learned how to be creative and how to express myself in different ways and take a risk on creative assignments. The first photo seen was taken at my first circus show, I still remember it like it was yesterday. We had worked for weeks to put an act together with a group of about 7 of us. Then the day of the show only three of us showed up. We had to work together with the help of our trainer to create a new act with very little time. I thought I was nervous when I first showed, I was even worse once we changed the act. Our trainer Dan Tafelski saw how all of us were worried and he came to us and told us, “Don’t worry just go out there and have fun.” And that’s what I did.germany 1

During my second summer with the circus I got an awesome chance to go to Germany to have an exchange with another circus, CircArtive Pimparello. I remember getting out of the car and getting to the top of the hill and looking down at, what I’ve called, the circus valley. I literally stopped in my tracks, and just took it all in, I was amazed at the beauty of it and was thinking about how I would get to spend the next three weeks there. The second photo is the group of us from America who got to visit Germany, on our hike through the woods.

During the time there, the founder of CircArtive Pimparello, Sven talked about how he would love for an American to come stay there for a year. I  really wanted to and thought I could the year after I graduated high school, but in that time I stopped doing circus and lost contact with a lot of those people.

When I was a junior in high school I decided that I was going to follow a career in culinary arts.  It took a lot of confidence on my part to really go down that path but having my background in circus I knew I was going to be able to do it.  I really started working on my cooking skills at home after that and started to get really creative with some of the decorations I put on cakes or how I would plate food.  I feel

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like I took creative chances that I wouldn’t have taken before because I learned that I could and that it’s OK for me to be creative through the skills I learned at circus.  The third photo is a dragon I made out of food. It was a project I had in one of my classes, we had to make some type of picture out of food. Most people were making simple designs. I wanted to do something that would be impressive, so I chose a dragon, my teacher thought I was crazy for picking that and said it would be hard, but I had made up my mind. It took me the whole five hours of class to get it together, it was made mostly from cucumber and green cantaloupe. It didn’t turn out exactly how I envisioned but it turned out great and everyone was impressed.

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The photo above is a dessert I make at the restaurant I work at currently. Now I have come back to my circus roots, I got in touch with Paul Miller of Circus Mojo and he took me back to Germany the summer of 2012. I was so excited to get to go back, and see all my friends from Germany and get back into doing circus. This trip in a much different role than the last time, this time I was an adult chaperone and a teacher. I had more responsibilities. I was so happy to be back and doing circus again. During that time Sven brought up having an American come and stay again and I thought I could actually do it.

When we got back to the US I always had Germany in the back of my mind but I wasn’t at a place where I could go to Germany, instead I was able to move down to Ludlow, KY and work with Circus Mojo.

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The above photo was taken during my second trip to Germany, during a show we put on. After doing both circus and culinary work  for some time, I found myself being able to create new acts along with creating menus.  I was not only doing circus but teaching it to young kids.  I have a lot of pride watching them try to create acts and learn the skills I learned.  I find it very rewarding when a young student learns something and is filled with joy because I have been there and I know the feeling. After some time I decided to move back to Chicago, it’s fun knowing that I can have a career in both circus and culinary.  There are some great opportunities within the circus world for me.  I mean, clowns have to eat. This summer I’ll get to put both my talents to work again. I will be able to take Sven up on his offer of spending time in Germany and I will be spending 14 months there. I will get to do both cooking and circus while there. I know I would be in a very different place if I had never taken the chance to join the circus and acquire these skills that have lead me so far in life.  I know they are only going to get me further.  I’m only going to keep going from here and coming up with new creative ideas for both inside and outside the kitchen. ~Jesse Dascola

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You can help kids like Jesse! Click here to donate today to the Circus Mojo Kickstarter fund, which will support their 2014 German Tour!

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Shanaz King

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Shanaz started studying aerial arts at the Aloft Loft in Chicago in 2008 where she trained in solo and duo trapeze, lyra, and straps.  She currently trains at MSA & Circus Arts in Chicago focusing mainly on aerial straps. She has performed for El Circo Cheapo, Acrofabulous Circus, and for showcases at MSA & Circus arts.

Watch Shanaz perform with the Acrofabulous Circus

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Gabriel Gonzalez

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Gabriel Gonzalez began his circus life in 2011 by wandering into the Gamma Phi Circus at Illinois State University. Within the Gamma Phi Circus he lead the juggling act and after having built his own Cyr wheel he was welcomed to join the wheel act as Gamma Phi’s first Cyr wheel performer. He also trained with a hand-me-down ladder and with the help of Ivan Stoinev he became Gamma Phi Circus’s first unsupported ladder performer during the 2014 show. Gabriel is very active within the wheel community, he recently just served as a judge for the 2014 US National Wheel Open Championship and plans to compete next year. In the coming year Gabriel is set to graduate from Illinois State University with a Bachelors of Arts in Sculpture with a minor in Art History. He enjoys video editing and traveling in his free time.

Watch Gabriel on Cyr wheel and Ladder

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