Youth find antedote to stress by building trust

A new cross-community program for young people in central New Jersey offers an exuberant antidote for school stress, societal inequality and body insecurity - and nurtures the community at the same time. 

Princeton Packet, May 17 2017

Circus of life: dreams take flight amid urban blight

TRENTON, N.J. — A group of would-be circus performers in New Jersey's capital city are using unicycles, acrobatics and spinning plates to bridge the divide between poverty and privilege.

The Trenton Circus Squad brings kids ages 12-17 from both the struggling city and its wealthier suburbs together, using circus skills to give them a sense of belonging and a belief in their own abilities.

While teaching young people to be the ring masters of their own lives, the kids also work on balancing on large balls and wood planks, stilt walking, trapeze skills, juggling and slapstick clown routines.

"Because of the high crime, the high unemployment going on here, hope's hard to find in this city," said program director Tom von Oehsen, who trained as a clown with Ringling Bros. in the 1980s. "And these kids bring a lot of hope, and a lot of positive energy to all the different communities in this city."

Associated Press, May 5 2017

Meet the ringleader: teaching the life skills through circus arts

"Around 4 o’ clock on most weekday afternoons, teens from Trenton and nearby suburbs and towns stream into a renovated factory on South Clinton Avenue. They’re met by a collection of interesting objects filling the vacuous space. In the middle of the floor are mats stacked neatly like pancakes and well-ordered boxes of rings, balls, pins, bizarre hats, oversized shoes, and clown noses. Above them are endless ribbons of thick silk fabric strung from the ceiling and pooling on the floor. There are a dozen unicycles leaning against one wall and racks of colorful costumes hanging lifelessly from the hangers in an adjacent room, all biding their time until school lets out. more

Jessica Downey, RealWoman Magazine

Not just clowning around: the power of circus

"Amanda Franklin, a case manager for Mercer House Youth Shelter, has witnessed positive change in the children she brings to the program each week. "It not only increases their self-esteem, it opens their eyes to different opportunities out there they may have never thought of and that they thought they wouldn't be able to do," she says. "It gives them something really positive to think about. For teenagers involved with the criminal justice system, it's exciting to see them passionate and determined and learning positive skills. Everyone is welcoming. No one is judgemental. Everyone is supportive."

By Anne Levin, Princeton Magazine

DATE POSTED: Spring 2016

Kids pay nothing to participate in Trenton Circus Squad. The summer program participants engaged in 21 workshops for 900 young people from the Trenton area, hosting groups from Urban Promise, Boys and Girls Club, Homefront, Joy in Siblings United, Mercer House Youth Shelter, and Catholic Youth Organization. They displayed their skills at PEI Kids, Every Child Valued, and Mill Hill Child and Family Development Center, attracting a bunch of new recruits.

By Anne Levin, Princeton Town Topics
DATE POSTED: August 19, 2015

In Trenton, Kids Clown Around With Circus Arts

"The Trenton Circus Squad brings together kids from Trenton and surrounding areas and uses circus arts to promote service, build self-esteem and strengthen the fabric of the community."

By Michael Mancuso, Times of Trenton
DATE POSTED: July 28 2015

Send in the Clowns? Trenton Circus Squad Already Here

"The clown academy gave Hazell the satisfaction of teaching tricks to children as young as six, and spreading joy throughout the city. 'This is a better way for me to do good and give back to the community,' he says. 'Making people happy is something I can always do now.

By Diccon Hyatt, US 1 Cover Feature
DATE POSTED: June 3 2015

Interview with Jacque Howard of Trenton 365

A chance to tell the Trenton community all about Trenton Circus Squad. Hear the recording here.

Jacque Howard, Trenton 365
DATE POSTED: March 10 2015

This place is A Circus!

"The road from Princeton to Trenton is blacktop, not yellow bricks, but thanks to the potential of this circus, it may present some golden opportunities for the youth in both communities."

By Pam Hersh, Princeton Packet
DATE POSTED: February 26 2015

Fake red noses, face paint and polka-dotted bloomers may become more commonplace in downtown Trenton as a new community circus for children seek to establish itself in the capital city.

By Jenna Pizzi, Times of Trenton
DATE POSTED: January 25, 2015

Trenton's Clown Academy Shows Benefits of Clowning Around, Spreads Joy to People in Need of a Smile

‘It could get a lot of kids off the street,’ he said. ‘Maybe, just maybe, it can change people’s lives.’

By Brielle Urciuoli, Times of Trenton
DATE POSTED: August 2, 2014


‘A sense of humor — the laughter — it breaks down barriers when it comes to a community,’ said Thomas von Oehsen, Director of the Clown Academy. ‘I want to train these kids and then have them go back and share their training … to reinvest, into their communities.’

By Sherrina Navani, The Trentonian
DATE POSTED: July 16, 2014