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Companies, organization team up for free circus event

Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Asian elephant Kelly Ann catches a football with her trunk from trainer Joey Frisco as the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Presents Dragons at the Arena at Gwinnett Center in Duluth Friday.

Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Asian elephant Kelly Ann catches a football with her trunk from trainer Joey Frisco as the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Presents Dragons at the Arena at Gwinnett Center in Duluth Friday.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Lawson Burris, 9, of Snellville volunteers to be a part of a performance act with a half dozen clowns from the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus prior to their presentation of "Dragons" at the Arena at Gwinnett Center in Duluth on Friday.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Clown Andrew Hicks tosses juggling pins prior to Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey performance of Dragons at the Arena at Gwinnett Center in Duluth Friday.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Children and their families react to the All-Access Preshow host Brendan Tetrault as a clown from the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus at the Arena at Gwinnett Center in Duluth Friday.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Norcross Mayor Bucky Johnson embraces Stephanie Hernandez-Abad, 8, prior to the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus performance of Dragons at the Arena at Gwinnett Center in Duluth Friday. The private show was a special gift from Gas South and its community partners during Metro Atlanta Mayor's Association Night.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan A male and female lion wait for instructions from the Big Cats Trainer and Presenter Alexander Lacey of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus at the Arena at Gwinnett Center in Duluth Friday.

If You Go

What: Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey presents “Dragons”

When: The circus runs through March 3. Times vary.

Where: The Arena at Gwinnett Center, 6400 Sugarloaf Parkway, Duluth

Cost: $25 to $130

For more information: Visit www.gwinnettcente...>

DULUTH -- Jessica Goldberg and her two boys knew how to spend their time on a cold, wet Friday afternoon -- at the circus.

The three Peachtree Corners residents were invited to attend a sneak-peek of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey's latest show, "Dragons."

"The pre-show was great," Goldberg said. "This is our second year as the guest of the mayor and it's a fabulous, fabulous experience."

She and her boys joined more than 200 other special-needs children and their families for a free preview sponsored by Gas South, the Metropolitan Atlanta Mayors Association and Feld Entertainment.

Goldberg's oldest son, 7-year-old Ari, has autism.

"As he's gotten older, he's getting better with crowds, but it's better when it grows around him," she said. "Being able to come with a smaller group, then the crowd builds around him is great. Also, meeting the clowns desensitizes things."

Ari and his 5-year-old brother, Jack -- wearing a multicolored wig and clown face paint -- couldn't decide what they liked more -- the clowns or the animals.

"I saw some dogs," Jack said with a mouthful of popcorn. "One jumped through a hula hoop."

Clowns showed off tricks, an animal trainer made lions and tigers stretch their paws to the sky and Kelly-Ann, the 9,000 pound elephant, dunked a basketball.

The sponsors enjoy hosting this event because it is a positive impact on the community.

"I think it's just one of those things where you see the impact on the kids and families, and it just makes you want to continue to bring it back each year -- make it bigger and better," CEO of Gas South Kevin Greiner said. "We feel it's important for kids with special needs to be able to come out for a special night with their families with a show that really caters for the kids. It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many of these children."

Not only children were entertained. Adults with special needs and disabilities were also present for the event.

"We're all ages and the circus is for everybody," said Sandy Wolff of Lilburn, who was with St. Mary's Independent Living Extensions. "We're interested in seeing the animals, the acts and having a good time. They really liked the animals. We're all excited. We're so happy to be here and we are so appreciative of (Mayor Johnny Crist) for these tickets."

Wolff was with a group of 20 from SMILE, a nonprofit agency in Lilburn providing supported living services to developmentally disabled adults in the community.

The event is turning into an annual tradition at the Arena that was first established four years ago.

"This is an initiative the Metro Atlanta Mayors Association started with Gas South and Feld Entertainment several years ago and it's grown into such a great event," said Norcross Mayor Bucky Johnson, who is the MAMA's chairman. "There are a lot of happy kids -- that's why I do it.

And there were many happy kids in the building, including Goldberg's boys.

"It's truly a gift for us because I don't think we would have been able to go the circus without this pre-show," she said. "We are big fans of the circus."

All of the children and their families were invited to stay for the full-length "Dragons" circus show.