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Nonprofit’s clown show at Buckner’s South Dallas center helps at-risk kids

Matthew Busch/Staff Photographer
Jermaria Ransom, 9, fist-bumped Russ Sharek after Sharek hosted an interactive clown workshop Thursday. “I believe in sharing the creative moment” through the workshops, Sharek says.
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Published: 27 February 2014 11:58 PM

Updated: 28 February 2014 12:05 AM

MyLianna Payne, 10, was exuberant. She gave the clown a grade of 1 million.

Russ Sharek did his job when he brought his circus act to the children at Buckner International’s Wynnewood Family Hope Center in South Dallas. The director of Circus Freaks made his young audience smile and laugh. Even one painfully shy youngster eventually opened up.

Sharek performed thanks to The Artist Outreach, a nonprofit founded by musician Joseph Vincelli. Part of Vincelli’s mission is to work with advocacy groups that serve at-risk children.

“We want to show them that you own your creativity and can use it as a building block for confident behavior,” Vincelli said.

The boys and girls ages 8 to 12 at Wynnewood eagerly participated in Sharek’s “Puff” game. They watched intently as he spun plates and juggled.

“It was good,” said DeAsia Jackson, 10. “I liked it when he kept dropping his hat.”

Amarre Lewis said he liked the juggling. The soft-spoken 12-year-old said he loves to draw and would like to be an artist.

Toyai Burns, 12, wants to be a singer. She shared a few bars of “I Will Always Love You” with the group.

“If you know any voice teachers, let me know,” she told the visiting adults.

Even though the circus was the focus, none of the youngsters said they wanted to be a clown.

The clown workshop is one of several “Inspired Living” programs offered by Vincelli. Others are Tiger Soup, which are Caribbean stories accompanied by music; Drum Circle; Junk Proviser, using junk and toys to create music; Story Wheel, collaborating on stories in circles; and Hands-On Magic.

“The idea is to feel good about the creativity,” Vincelli said.

Vincelli says the focus of his programs is to unleash creativity through the arts. He’s also branched out to offer Healing in Motion programs to teach life skills and workshops for business.

Vincelli, 49, turned to nonprofit work after a nearly 30-year career as a composer and recording artist.

“The arts are a big passion,” he said. “With cuts to fine arts budgets, there’s a need for art professionals to step up.”

Sharek said he agrees and is glad to be a part of The Artist Outreach. Although Circus Freaks is an “ethical-for-profit” group, community outreach is a priority.

“I believe in sharing the creative moment,” Sharek said. “Kids are madness, but there’s a way to channel that.”

He did just that. The youngsters paid attention during the hourlong show. They interacted. They giggled.

The show is just one of the ways Buckner helps the children at Wynnewood. About 120 children participate in the center’s after-school and summer day camp.

“Our goal is to offer resources and tools to help not only the children but their families,” said case manager Sandra Martinez.

Buckner, a faith-based social services organization, operates 27 recently renamed Family Hope Centers in 10 countries. The Dallas center and three others are in Texas.

The partnership with The Artist Outreach is one of many of the center’s many efforts to build self-esteem and stimulate dreams. The youngsters also go on field trips, have career days, watch plays and more.

This time, The Artist Outreach let them learn about circus life. Next time, maybe they will try making a film or creating music. The choices are many as the nonprofit grows.

Last year, The Artist Outreach served about 7,000 people. This year, Vincelli’s goal is about 10,000.

“We are making waves,” he said.

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