The 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.