For Manhasset residents on Monday, the circus came to town.
The Rotary Club of Manhasset hosted its 16th annual Children’s Circus at Munsey Park Elementary School, complete with a big top, animals and performances.
“It’s fabulous, all the kids come in with a smile,” said a Rotarian, Leslie Gross. “There may be some that are a little hesitant when they come in, but with the music going and everything, we’ve never lost one.”
The spectacle was put on by the Zerbini Family Circus, which touts itself as offering a “real, old-fashioned show.” Some of the show’s acts featured horses, camels and a contortionist clown. The circus performers pulled off complicated balancing acts with hula hoops and swords.
“What I like about it is it makes Manhasset feel like Middle America,” said the Rotary Club president, Robbie Donno. “It’s a small town feeling. It’s great.”
With all the entertainment the circus provides, the event serves Rotary’s main purpose, to promote charitable causes.
The circus is one of the club’s biggest fundraising events of the year, and while members haven’t counted how much was raised, Donno said he expected $14,000 to $15,000 based on the turnout.
Through the club’s partnership with Adventures in Learning, Rotary was able to bring a bus full of children from the low-income development Spinney Hill in Great Neck, Donno said. The children were admitted to the show free and were given a stipend to spend on treats and souvenirs, he said.
There was also a special guest in the audience on Monday, a 9-year-old girl from Kosovo named Esme who came to Long Island to receive a life-saving heart procedure. The Manhasset High School Interact Club sponsored her trip to the country and St. Francis Hospital’s Heart Center in Roslyn is underwriting the cost of the operation, Donno said.
At the circus, Esme met Dr. Sean Levchuk, the doctor who will be performing her catheterization procedure at the hospital.
Esme’s trip and operation was coordinated by the Gift of Life program, one of Manhasset Rotary’s major causes. It is a national program started by Donno, which sponsors children from underdeveloped countries to have life-saving heart operations.
The first sponsorship, in 1975, was for a Ugandan girl with a heart defect named Grace Agwaru. She had her operation done at St. Francis, and from there, it started a tradition that would grow into the international cause that it is today.
Agwaru now runs an operation in Uganda through the Gift of Life, which is setting up a sustainable facility to perform operations in country. This year, the Uganda facility expects to perform 200 surgeries, Donno said.
Proceeds from the circus will partly benefit the Gift of Life program, he said.
“Some of these families we help are planning for a certain funeral, but instead get to celebrate a birthday,” Donno said.
Several local companies sponsored the circus, including Americana Manhasset, Douglas Elliman Real Estate and Lord & Taylor. As the annual circus has planted roots in Manhasset, Donno said, businesses have recognized it as a chance to give back to the community.
“The fact we’re getting sponsorship from a national company like Lord & Taylor, it’s not easy to do, but they do it for the good of the community,” Gross said.