Using the Circus to Teach Teens To Take Big Leaps in Life
Steve Adubato talks to Thomas von Oehsen, Executive Director, Trenton Circus Squad, about the impact of being recognized with a Russ Berrie Making A Difference Award and how his organization inspires teens to “take big leaps in life.”
"This is, like, a circus haven. We created Trenton Circus Squad to bring kids together, to work together, to learn from each other, and to enrich everybody. Trenton Circus Squad is one of the main places in Trenton to have fun or stay safe at the same time. It's a great place to be, and it's a great place to be yourself and hang out with everybody. When we perform, it's even better. [music playing] Is... is that not the coolest thing? That is the Trenton Circus Squad. The gentleman right here, Tom von Oehsen, is the executive director. You... by the way, set this up. We met during the Russ Berrie Awards for Making a Difference this past year. What were we just seeing? And why did you just tell me, while you were watching, that "this has been my dream"? That's a typical scene in our factory, where we're located in downtown Trenton at one of the Roebling wire works factories. And you walk in, and you see kids doing the most amazing things. And that's why we say we inspire kids to take huge leaps in life. Tom, where did this whole thing come from? A partner and I co-founded it Zoe Brookes and myself. We use circus arts, which is a very inclusive type of art form, where kids can come in, find success, and learn skills that change their lives. They transform their lives, and they realize that they can achieve amazing things. Why does it matter so much in a city like Trenton? Our capital city in New Jersey. And it could be Newark, Jersey City, East Orange, Camden, anywhere, but why there? Well our model is, is that we merge suburban kids with urban kids. And that's a huge thing. So we're bringing kids together that would never cross paths. So in our area, we got Princeton, Lawrenceville, Hopewell... You've got some wealthy communities? Exactly. So those kids come into Trenton, partner with the teenagers from Trenton, and because we see the Trenton kids everyday, guess what? They're the ones that have the most amazing skills, because they develop and they practice everyday. What's it like when those kids get together? They form strong relationships. And human contact is something that is in desperate need for this generation, because of the impact of cellphones. They're losing those skills. Actually... hold on, excuse me, Tom von Oehsen, from this great organization called Trenton Circus Squad. These kids are actually talking to each other? Believe it or not. They're learning how to trust each other and communicate and develop empathy. And it's something that draws them to the factory everyday. Because that experience is not something that they experience everyday in their lives..."