When the Fort Wayne Boys and Girls Clubs opened a new, 42,500-square-foot facility, its leaders had two goals: to accommodate more families and bring young people joy.
The organization was designed to inspire youth, particularly from low-income families, to reach their potential.
On Tuesday, members of the International Juggling Association played a role in the organization's vision, presenting a professional-scale show in the Fairfield Avenue building that opened in the spring.
The performance was part entertaining and part inspirational. The lineup of performers included “America's Got Talent” semifinalist Jon Wee, who competed in seasons 1 and 11 of the NBC show with his partner Owen Morse. They formed the group The Passing Zone and have become known for wacky routines, such as one Wee refers to as “Chainsaw Ballet.”
Wee recalled one favorite stunt of juggling over celebrity judge Howie Mandel, forcing him to lay down on a yoga mat as they hurdled hazardous objects inches away from his face.
“Howie's such a germaphobe,” Wee said. “We were afraid he wouldn't do it.”
As the large gymnasium at the Boys and Girls Clubs filled Tuesday with about 400 youth, the onlookers chanted and gasped as Wee performed similar tricks on a less-life-threatening scale, including on involving Ronnie Lindsey, the Boys and Girls' Clubs director of operations.
In the middle of a juggling “pass,” Lindsey anxiously watched as Wee and his partner exchanged half-pound juggling pins over Lindsey's head.
Joe Jordan, president and CEO of the local clubs, said he was humbled that Wee and the other jugglers would perform for free.
The association is holding its 72nd annual convention in town this week, with several sessions and events downtown at Grand Wayne Center and Embassy Theatre. At least 700 jugglers are expected for the IJA Festival, which runs through Sunday.
“I knew this would bring joy to the kids in our community,” Jordan said, “I'm really honored they are here.”
One juggler, Taylor Glenn, 28, told the youth she started going to a Boys and Girls Club in Utah at just 3 years old. Now a film editor in Los Angeles, Glenn credits her skills to attributes she developed through juggling and learning to come out of her shell.
“I want you to know that believing you can do something means you are already halfway there,” Glenn said.