|By Courtney Llewellyn|
Reminder Assistant Editor
WILBRAHAM Bottle drives and magazine sales are the fundraisers of the past. The Wilbraham Hampden Academic Trust Inc. (w.h.a.t.) decided last year to step up its fundraising efforts for student scholarship by bringing Circus Smirkus to town. The performance group will be returning this summer on July 12 and 13.
Since 2003, w.h.a.t. has provided more than $75,000 for the support of enrichment programs in the Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School District. The money raised is awarded to teachers throughout the district through educational grants.
Past fundraisers for the trust included golf tournaments, dinner dances and an adult team spelling bee. Funds have also been collected through personal and business donations. Circus Smirkus drew a lot of local attention in 2007, however.
"Nearly 2,000 people attended the circus last year," w.h.a.t. President Kevin Giordano said. "The goal for attendance this year is to average 650 people per show (four shows total). That would be a great boost for the event, ensure a successful fundraiser, but most importantly help ensure that Circus Smirkus will return to our area. We need the support and enthusiasm of the whole area, and attendance will show that Circus Smirkus will continue to be successful in future years."
Circus Smirkus gives kids a chance to run away and join the circus with their parents' blessings, according to the troupe's Web site (www.circussmirkus.org). Since 1987, the circus has provided a format for youths and adults to collaborate in life-enhancing adventures in the circus arts. One of the group's social missions is to provide "a vital fundraising opportunity for the non-profit organizations that present our Big Top Tour each summer. Since our founding, we have raised over $2 million for our presenters."
Giordano first became familiar with the Greensboro, Vt.-based circus while he was a resident of the Green Mountain State. He used to take his children to see the circus in the summer.
"Because of the excitement the shows created, and each year how much the kids would look forward to going, I decided that it would be great if we could bring them to the area," Giordano stated.
The trust raises funds through the circus performances through individual and business sponsors, ticket sales and advertising in the program inserts. Because last year was the first year Circus Smirkus came to town, Giordano said w.h.a.t. made a modest profit but with increased efforts this year, he thinks the performances can become very successful fundraisers.
"The performers are truly outstanding and their talents get woven into a theme-based show with live music," Giordano said. "By the end, everyone is standing, clapping, stomping their feet. Sometimes I think the adults enjoy it more than the kids."
This year's theme is "An Invention Convention," where circus goers will discover "the zaniest gadgets, gizmos and doohickeys ever created," according to Troy Wunderle and Jesse Dryden, the tour's show directors.
He added that Circus Smirkus s something he would love to keep bringing back to the region year after year.
"There are not enough activities like this that come to our area, so I do hope people will want to keep having them come back," Giordano noted.
The w.h.a.t. president met with the Board of Selectmen at their March 17 meeting to discuss the location change for the Circus Smirkus performances for this summer. Last year's event took place at Fountain Park, but due to a scheduling conflict, Giordano wanted to make sure the newly proposed site of Spec Pond was adequate and appropriate for the circus this year.
"The circus came by to inspect and were very happy with the Spec Pond site," Giordano told the selectmen. "It's a high traffic area, too, so it may bring in more people."
He added that both the circus coordinators and w.h.a.t. will be working closely with the police department to ensure the safety of people getting in and out of the site.
"We were very happy with the circus last year," Fire Chief Fran Nothe said. "They were very cooperative and official."
While times for performances haven't yet been officially set, Giordano said there will most likely be two performances on both days at 2 and 7 p.m.
For more information on w.h.a.t., visit www.whatinc.org.