Η Jenn Cohen, Process Worker, στο Process Work Institute του Πόρτλαντ, Όρεγκον, έχει κάνει καταπληκτική δουλειά με νέους στο Circus Project. Αξίζει μια επίσκεψη στο web site τους…
Την εβδομάδα που μας πέρασε, δημοσιεύτηκε συνέντευξη της στην εφημερίδα The Oregonian.
Πηγή: The Oregonian
Dreams under the big top: Portland woman ties circus to success
by Casey Parks, The Oregonian September 10, 2009
Nine months ago, Jenn Cohen dropped off her dreams at a bus stop in Yachats. That followed a winter weekend that was supposed to be a benchmark for Cohen and her nonprofit, which teaches circus skills to homeless and at-risk youths. The Circus Project was low on money, but the students were becoming great performers. Cohen took them to the coast to create their first performance.
But two days into the retreat, Cohen discovered that three students had been doing drugs — a violation of company rules. Jenn Cohen, 33, offers feedback to her students at the end of rehearsal recently at Friendly House. Cohen’s students prepare to perform in public after a year of training.
“How could you do this?” Cohen had asked them, crying. After a sleepless night, she delivered the news: I’m sending you back to Portland. When she dropped them off at the bus stop, the group was 6 months old. The three offenders had helped create the program and made up half the troupe. How could she go forward without them? It took months, but Cohen, 33, is on the verge of her first victory.
The Circus Project will perform Saturday night at Disjecta. The circus, historically, has often been a place for the marginalized, for freaks of nature. Jenn Cohen was 13 and on a family vacation at Club Med in Florida when she first tried a trapeze. She felt out of place at school, out of place at home. She was terrible at sports and ballet, but on the trapeze — even that middle-class vacation version — her body had a purpose. The next summer, she begged her family to send her to circus camp.
By 16, she was teaching circus skills such as trapeze, juggling and aerial acrobatics. Within a few years, she was performing around the world. In San Francisco, where she attended the country’s top circus school and taught classes, Cohen began using circus training as a way of helping people with eating or emotional disorders.
Andie Rose Crug, once a student of Cohen’s who has Tourette’s syndrome, said performing helped her channel tics into physical activity. Her symptoms lessened, she says, because the dangerous acts demanded concentration. “It’s life or death up there,” she said.
Cohen eventually moved to Portland, where she worked part time as a therapist and tried to expand on the results she had seen in California. She knew the people who would most benefit from circus training wouldn’t be able to afford it.
Jessica Dennis, 22, rehearses her Tissu routine as she prepares for the Circus Project’s show this week. “I joke about my $10,000 handstand,” she says. “In San Francisco, people really did pay $40 an hour to study with a Chinese circus master.”
She started a nonprofit, offering free lessons and, using grant money, healthy food for participants. She held drop-in classes at Outside In and New Avenues for Youth. By fall 2008, she had a troupe of seven performers, all around 20 years old. About half were homeless. She thought raising money would be easy.
There are 1,652 nonprofits in the city — one for every 338 people — but Cohen thought her program would stand out, that people would see how students’ lives improved. Most potential donors were wary. “You want to teach what to whom? Why?” Cohen believes Portland has plenty of career opportunities for circus performers, particularly teaching jobs. “But it’s really hard to convince people that it is actually a viable activity because it’s not widely known in Portland as one,” she says.
Even with the money stress, things were going great when the group started planning its first big show late last year. Everyone showed up for practice three times a week at the Friendly House, a community center in Northwest Portland. The students were happy. “I grew up loving Batman,” trapezist Aaron Guerrero says. “Doing all this stuff that people don’t do feels like my superpower, like I could go out and save the city with my aerials.”
In January, Cohen splurged and took the students on the retreat to Yachats. She rented a big, oceanside lodge. One night, in a group meeting, a student said she was upset. While she had obeyed the company’s rules — no drinking, no drugs — other students had broken them. When Cohen told the students they were out of the program, they begged to stay, she says. Part of her wanted to let them. They were the founding members.
Driving back from the bus stop, she thought the project was over. Would the four remaining students want to continue? Since the project started, the students have often said what they like most is the sense of community the project has given them. Like Cohen, they had felt out of place before. Now, half their community was gone.
Nervous, Cohen pulled up to the lodge. The remaining students were waiting with a card. “Although we had a time of chaos, it made a stronger bond between us,” they wrote. “(We), like you, have no idea what could happen next … but would like to say thank you for hanging in there, believing in us and in the process and in yourself.” “Now,” they said. “Let’s get back to work.”
The performance they will debut Saturday is breathtaking. The students — the ones who stayed — are graceful, agile and strong. Exactly what Cohen wanted.