Volunteers bring improv to St. Joe’s

Every Monday, improv artists Adam Fielitz and Jim DeSimone have a standing date with the kids in Isaiah Cottage at St. Joseph’s Home for Children.

While youth at St. Joe’s have several interactions with adults—therapists, case managers, teachers and the like—Adam and Jim are a bit like the fun uncles who come by for a visit.

Adam was hooked on improv when he first watched “Who’s Line Is It Anyway” on television decades ago. Since then he’s been performing, teaching and enjoying the art of improv whenever he has the opportunity. Jim fell in love with improv at The Second City when he was living in Toronto. They have both experienced the benefits of improvisation in their own lives, and thought it would help the youth at St. Joe’s.

“Improv has always been really therapeutic for me,” Adam said. “It’s a great release.”

Adam has been coming to St. Joe’s for the last five years. After hearing Sen. Cory Booker’s speech encouraging people to “do something” at a Martin Luther King, Jr. breakfast, he spent about a year seeking out opportunities for his “something” before coming to St. Joe’s. He later recruited Jim to fill in while he was traveling for work, but Jim loved it so much he too signed up for the weekly improv session there.

“I wanted to give back and I didn’t know how give back until I came here,” Adam said.

Adam and Jim come with a notebook of ideas in an attempt at structure, but let their time at St. Joe’s evolve as the youth need and crave. Each evening begins with all standing in a circle for warm up exercises before moving onto a variety of improv games.

“Every time we come in, there’s a different emotional situation going on there, so we adapt,” Jim said. “Improv is just playing like a kid. If you’re not having fun, you’re doing something wrong.”

Keith Kozerski, Catholic Charities’ senior director of child and family services, sees the positive changes volunteers like Adam and Jim make for those most in need.

“It’s great to have Adam and Jim around teaching our youth another creative way to express themselves,” he said. “They also learn new skills, practice making mistakes and ultimately feel successful.”

Through the time they have spent at St. Joe’s, Adam and Jim have formed a bond with the staff and youth who come through the doors. While they don’t always get a thank you, they say they always know the youth are glad they came to play.

“Everybody has a story and everybody’s important,” Adam said. “I’m hooked on volunteering, I really am. I need to do something like this for the rest of my life.”

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