Middlesex United Way: Children’s circus of Middletown helping kids succeed

Children are such a unique population, with ever-changing trends, patterns and behaviors. As a parent myself, I can attest that some of my best memories are watching my children advance, learn and play.

The Middlesex United Way often works with partners who serve adults, but our mission also includes working to help reduce the rate of risky behaviors among youth and adults, as well as helping students to succeed academically.

In order to reduce the rate of risky behaviors among youth and adults, Middlesex United Way partners with various organizations through Middlesex County, including Boy Scouts, Clinton Youth & Family Services, Durham-Middlefield Youth & Family Services East Haddam Youth & Family Services, Girl Scouts of Connecticut, Middlesex YMCA, Middletown Youth Services Bureau, Oddfellows Playhouse, Old Saybrook Youth & Family Services, Portland Youth Services, Rushford, Tri-Town Youth Services (Chester, Deep River, Essex), Westbrook Public Schools, and Youth & Family Services of Haddam-Killingworth.

Of these partners, we are proud to be a longtime supporter of Oddfellows Playhouse for over 25 years.

Oddfellows, which receives funding from Middlesex United Way, not only helps students gain knowledge about theater, but also builds life skills and self-confidence through its programs. While studying the art of acting, mime and movement, students learn cooperation, respect and responsibility.

While participating in high-quality theater productions, they broaden their minds about literature, culture and history. Participants undoubtedly draw on the experiences at Oddfellows for their entire lives.

Oddfellows holds a five-week, full-day summer program each year, helping to keep children and young adults in a safe, positive learning environment, as well allowing them to discover interests they never knew they might have had. The Children’s Circus is a fun, challenging, physical theater experience that teaches participants how to work together and collaborate and, allows them to learn both performing and practical skills.

All this starts with a culture of acceptance and celebration of each person’s unique potential and contribution, led by highly qualified staff.

These staff members are provided with three intensive days of training, focusing on leadership, safety, team-building, crisis management, creative collaboration, conflict resolution, appropriate behavior, OSHA training and more. Many of the counselors are former program participants, and many counselors have gone on to become teaching artists and other program staff in leadership positions.

This program serves a diverse group of children and young adults ranging from the ages 5 to 15 and ends in with a summer show involving all campers, counselors, instructors, artists, a live band, and many volunteers. It is attended by an audience of more than 1,000 annually.

The 2018 Children’s Circus served a total of 167 children ages 5 to 15 and touted some incredible results.

Last year, participants showed significant growth: 87 percent exhibited increased self-confidence; 84 percent demonstrated greater awareness of how to communicate with others; 82 percent exhibited increased cooperation skills, and 88 percent expressed increased appreciation for the work of others.

Also, 71 percent increased their physical activity and level of fitness; 74 percent improved conflict resolution skills, and 84 percent increased their ability to set goals and work toward them. In addition, 96 percent demonstrated commitment and follow-through by completing the program through the performance.

The Children’s Circus of Middletown 31st annual show is “(Almost) Anything Goes!” which has over 160 performers, an 18-piece live band and 40 staff. We are so proud to help support this wonderful camp, and hope that this may spark an interest they never knew they had in a child’s heart.

For information on this or any of our other funded programs, call Ed Bonilla at 860-346-8695.

Kevin Wilhelm is president and CEO of the Middletown-based Middlesex United Way.