Circus, nonprofit team up
Ringling Bros. helps foster foundation

DULUTH - Not only did Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus bring the normal assortment of elephants and clowns to town, but it has also brought a little good will.

Ringling Bros. will join with Gwinnett-based Foster Children's Foundation as the nonprofit organization begins a $3.3 million capital campaign to fund the construction of a permanent location.

Special "V.I.P. Circus Bash" tickets will be sold for a Friday event at The Arena at Gwinnett Center that will feature a private meeting with the circus' performers, an opportunity to meet an 11,200-pound elephant, catered food and drinks and tickets to that night's performance.

The special VIP tickets cost $75 for adults and $50 for children 12 and under. All proceeds will go to FCF, said Suzanne Geske, the organization's executive director.

Foster Children's Foundation currently operates out of a building it leases in Duluth but would like to have its own facility that would be around for years to come.

"We wouldn't be in a position where we'd have to move," Geske said. "The children we serve would know where to find us now and forever."

The foundation is hoping to purchase two to three acres of land for the building. That would allow enough space to hold its annual events like Easter Egg hunts and holiday parties.

The building would also function as a home for its mentor programs and FCF's resource center, which gives foster kids necessities like school supplies and clothes.

FCF is looking for land in Duluth, Suwanee or Norcross, areas Geske said would provide easier access to kids from all over the metro Atlanta area.

"The good thing is we border several other major counties so a lot more children are able to get to us and utilize the services," Geske said.

FCF began in 2000 as a part of Gwinnett's annual "Great Day of Service." Geske said 40 volunteers helped organize and participate in a picnic for foster children.

The volunteers enjoyed the experience so much they began to want to do more to help foster children. After expanding to as many as 240 volunteers and realizing the permanent need for the services it provides, FCF incorporated in 2003. Geske said FCF has helped thousands of children since that time.

Jillian Collett, a publicist for Ringling Bros., said her company likes to help charities in all the areas it performs. Ringling Bros. will have performances at The Arena at Gwinnett Center today through Sunday.

Collett said she did some market research and found out about FCF's desire to raise funds for a permanent building.

"With what each market gives to us, it's important for us to give a little something back," Collett said.

Collett said Ringling Bros. looks for charities that benefit children and families.

In addition to its fundraising work with FCF, Ringling Bros. has also offered to give a ticket to a foster child for every $100 in sales.

Geske said she couldn't be more thankful to Ringling Bros. for offering to help her organization and the children it serves.

"They've really gone out of their way to make this real special," Geske said.

SideBar: At a glance

' What: V.I.P. Circus Bash

' When: 5 to 6 p.m. Friday

' Where: Arena at Gwinnett Center

' Cost: $75 for adults, $50 for children 12 and under

' Benefiting: The Foster Children's Foundation has started a $3.3 million campaign to open a permanent location. FCF is a nonprofit organization located in Duluth that aims to provide for foster children's material and emotional needs.

' Other ways to donate: FCF will also be selling multiple sponsorship opportunities as well as naming opportunities for rooms in its future building.

' For more information: www.fosterchildrensfoundation.org