Image: Amazing Grace Circus students with their instructors
Giacinta Pace
Amazing Grace Circus students with their instructors Janet Hayes, Polly Solomon, and Carlo Pelligrini.
NBC News
updated 7/24/2009 5:26:14 PM ET 2009-07-24T21:26:14

Ladies and gentlemen, children of all ages: Sit back, relax and prepare yourselves for the never-before-seen “Circus-in-the-Park Extravaganza!” From July 15 through Aug. 2, the town of Nyack, N.Y., will be “under the big top.”

Carlo Pelligrini and Janet Hayes juggled with the idea of bringing a large-scale circus to their community after co-founding and working with Amazing Grace Circus (ACG!), a nonprofit organization and a teen youth circus. Pelligrini and Hayes knew that wanted to help the post-9/11 community of Nyack but did not know what type of organization to start. The children of Nyack’s Grace Episcopal Church thought of the idea of a circus and shortly after, ACG! began in the church’s basement.

Pelligrini and Hayes felt that diverse teens of the community needed an outlet to express themselves, build bridges between different races and increase their self-esteem while simultaneously being uplifted. They also believed that while helping themselves, the teens could help others by bringing laughter to their devastated town. Their mission is for the children to achieve “CIRCUS — Confidence, Imagination, Respect, Cooperation, Understanding, Success.”

Now, ACG!, is prepared to unveil its “Circus-in-the-Park Extravaganza" in celebration of the 2009 Hudson River Quadricentennial and the Bicentennial Birth of the American Circus. “Our goal is to is to involve as many aspects of the community as possible, drive a lot of people into this community, let them see who we are and how vibrant we are,” said Pelligrini.

Nyack’s mayor, John Shields, is excited for the “Circus-in-the-Park Extravaganza’s” animal and aerial acts. He said it's “the biggest little circus in the biggest little village in the state of New York.”

The “Circus-in-the-Park Extravaganza” will feature a tent built by the tentmakers of the re-known Cirque de Soleil “big top” as well as family fun days, art exhibits, movies and slideshows. Also included in the lineup is a July 31st Gala Benefit & Dance to profit ACG!. Another highlight is the July 25th “Old Tyme Circus Parade Down Main Street."

“A circus parade on Saturday with an elephant and two llamas is fun, fun, fun,” said Mayor Shields.

Part of a team
Most importantly, however, the circus acts will be performed by the youth of ACG!. “Giving kids a chance to express themselves, teaching them how to work together (and) be part of a team, (and) succeed together is extremely important, you know, and it’s other things too — they learn how to focus, they learn how to set and reach goals, they make new friends that they become inseparable with,” said Polly Solomon, ACG!’s aerial instructor who also takes care of much administrative work for the non-profit.

Solomon describes how the children involved in ACG! are eager to learn and surprise her every day. About 13 children are involved in the year-round youth circus while 45 children attend the summer program.

“They each have their own little way of expressing themselves and trying to identify that with each kid and harness it and get them to use that is part of the challenge and wonder of this gig,” she said. With the “Circus-in-the-Park Extravaganza,” even more children will be involved.

Kenny Lindemann, now 20 years old, was once a one of children in ACG!

“I had no real direction, you know, I had nothing to really keep me organized or focused and with the circus, it kind of gave me an outlet, something to focus on now and then. Since the circus my grades, went up in school,” said Lindemann.

Lindemann was shy yet often getting into trouble at school before he joined the circus at age 13. Pelligrini was his mentor at church and succeeded in getting Lindemann to open up by asking him if he could juggle.

Through his participation with the circus, he became a more serious student and active in other areas as well such as with sports and trumpet. Now, Lindemann has completed his second year of circus school and is performing in Quebec’s Cirque de Soleil “Les Chemins Invisibles (The Invisible Journey)” this summer.

“I’ve come along way since the circus at Nyack,” he said.

Although Pelligrini is sad that Lindemann cannot attend the “Circus-in-the-Park Extravaganza” because he is traveling with Cirque de Soleil, he is proud of Lindemann’s accomplishments. While Lindemann is fulfilling his dream of joining the circus, Pelligrini’s vision of bringing a large-scale circus to Nyack is becoming a reality.

“This is a wonderful dream that’s about to happen,” said Pelligrini.

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