CircEsteem has flourished since 2001 because it is so much more than a circus. CircEsteem provides a unique place for kids from diverse backgrounds to come together and build self-esteem and mutual respect through the practice and performance of circus arts. CircEsteem was founded in 2001 by Paul Miller, a former clown of Barnum & Bailey.

In 2004 Maribeth Joy joined CircEsteem for its 4th Spring Circus as a stage manager, photographer and costume maker. During her time at CircEsteem she led youth on tours all over the country and the world from Wisconsin and California all the way to Germany! She became Executive Director in 2009. 

In 2016, CircEsteem welcomed (back) new Executive Director Dan Roberts.  Dan, a former CircEsteem Teaching Artist, is moving back to Chicago from Indonesia where he has founded and managed successful social circus programs for the last several years, to lead CircEsteem.  Check out this article about our new ED in Now Jakarta!


All of CircEsteem’s programs are interlocking and each one takes a holistic approach to working with youth. Every program was created to address a social need. When we found our kids were struggling in school we created HomeWork & CircusWork, a free after school program that provides academic support 3 days a week. This program led to youth employment opportunities and scholarship money for college.

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Here are the diverse and interconnected programs we offer:


HomeWork & CircusWork (HWCW) is a free after school program that provides home work help followed by circus instruction 3 days a week. It serves about 25-30 youth who are primarily low income at risk youth in the Rogers Park, Edgewater, and Uptown neighborhoods.  CE offers transportation, and thanks to Whole Foods Market, healthy snacks for the kids to eat and a full bag of food to take home. Read More


CircusTeens is our youth employment program. CircEsteem hires older and more responsible students to teach, perform and mentor younger students.  CE teaches financial literacy and helps teens open bank accounts.  We encourage all eligible students to start saving for college as soon as they start making money by matching their savings dollar for dollarRead More


Saturday Circus

Each Saturday morning students from all over Chicago join kids from the HomeWork & CircusWork program for five hours of circus classes. Together they work to build relationships and skills.  This is the best example of how CE serves their mission of uniting youth from diverse backgrounds. Read More


CircEsteem Scholarship Opportunities

CircEsteem wants to make circus accessible to everyone.  All onsite program fees are set on a sliding scale.  CE asks families to pay full price if they can.  If not, they can pay what they can. They are also willing to barter for classes when parents have skills such as graphic design, costuming and marketing.

CE has relationships with 15 offsite locations where they provide afterschool, in-school and summer programming.  At each Chicago Public School location we also provide two scholarships for every 10 paying participants. Read More


College Scholarships

CircEsteem offers an annual $3,000 scholarship for CE participants who have been with the program for at least two years and maintain good standing in school.   This is in addition to any money the student saves and CE matches.

To date CircEsteem graduates have amassed over $600,000 in outside scholarships and attended Carleton College, Illinois State University, Denison College, and  Lake Forest College.

To serve our mission, of uniting youth from diverse backgrounds, CE must keep programs accessible to families in need. More than 60% of programming is offered free of charge.  This year alone over $110,000 in class scholarships were offered in addition to the completely free HW&CW program. Read More