A Night with Michael Jackson

It is not every day you get to see Cirque du Soleil featuring Michael Jackson hits. When the show came to Gainesville and Kids Central was given free tickets for the local families we serve, that is exactly what happened. Over 50 kids and adults had the opportunity to see the “immersive musical experience”, as the website describes it.

One such family who had the chance to go was the Burnham family. The Burnham family includes mom and dad, Melissa and Craig, and their eight kids. Melissa happens to be a huge fan of Cirque du Soleil and was really excited when she got the email from Joy Foreman at Kids Central about the tickets. It was short notice, only a day in advance, but the family of 10 still made it work, unbeknownst to the kids. Melissa and Craig decided it would be a surprise for their eight kids, three biological and five adopted.

Melissa and Craig have been foster parents for many years. They first fostered in Rhode Island and after moving to Florida in 2011, continued here. In Florida they received their first foster care license through Florida Baptist Children’s Home. This licensing process is a little different than traditional licensing. It is a faith-based organization with different licensing criteria. After adopting, Melissa and Craig were considered over capacity by Florida Baptist and could not continue. They still wanted to help children who have experienced trauma, and they contacted Kids Central.  Through Kids Central they became licensed foster parents and could continue caring for children who needed support. Their mission as foster parents is to always work to get to know the biological family and send the kids home. There were two times when that plan did not work. They ended up adopting two sibling groups, once a sibling group of three kids and the second a sibling group of two. Their kids range in ages from two to sixteen.

Soon they will once again be opening their home to a teen mom-to-be through extended foster care. Melissa says that since she and Craig were teen parents and they had the support needed, they wanted to give back and help a teen mom. They wanted the ability to show her the support she needs like their families did for them. Though they will not be renewing their foster care license in August when it expires, extended foster care is a way for them to stay connected with the system.

So you see, going to Cirque du Soleil might not be on the top of the list of things a large family can do. As Melissa said, activities like this go by the wayside when you have a large family. The expenses really add up with tickets and other costs associated with an activity like this.

Melissa shared how all of the children enjoyed the performance. All of the children were engaged in the program, from the youngest to the oldest. A unique and amazing performer was part of the show. He was a disable acrobat who had only one leg. He traveled around the stage using crutches but would surprise the audience by dropping them and continuing to dance and perform. He was in many acts during the show and every time he took the stage the children were engrossed. The kids really identified with him, since the family worked at a summer youth camp for kids with disabilities. Another fun story from the night concerns the chimp character. The Michael Jackson character brings out a chimp from the sound booth. It was difficult for the kids to tell if it was a real chimp or an actor.  When the mask came off, they saw it was a human and were amazed!

This was a great once in a lifetime experience for the whole family. It is always a treat to see the great memories that families make because of the generosity of the community. Needless to say, the Burnhams have become big fans of Cirque du Soleil and would love to see more shows.

If you’d like to help a family experience a once in a lifetime performance, contact Nicole Pulcini Mason at Nicole.PulciniMason@KidsCentralinc.org or 352-387-3474.