Being a homeless kid can feel like walking a tightrope — so this nonprofit is teaching them how to be acrobats.
There are an estimated 1.7 million homeless youth in America.
That's a huge number — and a huge problem. Homeless teens are more likely to develop depression and PTSD, and even if they do get off the streets, they may still experience emotional and behavioral problems.
That's why there are a lot of programs out there to help homeless, at-risk youth. Some programs focus on mentorship, some help kids develop leadership skills, and others give them something to do to keep them out of trouble.
... and then there's the Circus Project, which teaches homeless kids how to fly.
The Portland-based program uses the circus arts to help homeless youth channel their energy into productive, empowering social activity.
The circus arts are more Cirque du Soleil than Barnum & Bailey. There are no animals involved in the Circus Project's performances — just humans using their bodies to make really awesome art.
The students in the High Flyers outreach program take classes for 8-10 weeks to learn how to suspend themselves from aerial silks...
And perform trapeze acts...
And become acrobats.
The program's founder, Jenn Cohen, said that High Flyers isn't just about learning how to balance, hanging from a trapeze, or becoming really flexible. It's actually mostly focused on developing healthy coping skills and self-confidence in a positive, productive environment.
"Part of the curriculum is teaching them the skills to be able to work with authority, to be able to work with our peers," Jenn Cohen told Upworthy.
"Our curriculum is actually very integrated with life skills training," Jenn added.
The program also continues to support the students in their social circus program after they graduate.
The Circus Project began with just the outreach program, but they have now grown to include an academy with paid classes for the public too, as well as a professional performance troupe.
So, after the students complete their classes in the program for at-risk youth, the Circus Project offers them scholarships to participate in the public academy and continue to develop their circus skills.
"The big goal is to find these kids in the outreach program who really respond well to it and communicate to them that there is a place for them at the Circus Project if they can make it here," Sean Andries, Circus Project program director, told Upworthy.
Having a place to belong is something that isn't always available for homeless youth, but it can be life-changing.
Jessica Coshatt, a former homeless young adult who became a High Flyer, can attest to that. After participating in the High Flyers program, she's became a wellness specialist at another nonprofit for homeless youth. She recently told The Lund Report that her time in the Circus Project helped her transition out of homelessness.
"I wanted to get back inside for trapeze and acrobatics training," she said.
"Circus is fun, it's exciting, it's tough, and the only way you're going to get better at it is if you actually invest in it and work hard at it," Andries says.
The founders hope that between the circus arts and the support of fellow artists, these at-risk teens and young adults can find stability.
“What we see with a lot of these outreach teams that really respond to it is that it gives them something they really care about, that they're passionate about," Sean said.
"They realize that if they want to get better at it and pursue it, they need to organize the rest of their life in order to support that," he said.
This is such an amazing, unique way to help provide support to some of the people who need it the most.
Want to learn more? Check out this video to see what an actual Circus Project performance looks like: