Please read on for an update from our leadership about the future of our organization. What follows are a series of letters from Amy Cohen, Tara Jacob, and Jesse AlFord.

Dear Community,

It is with sincere gratitude that I share that I will be transitioning out of my role as the Executive Director of the American Youth Circus Organization at the end of 2018.

When I reflect on the most formative events in my life thus far, all roads lead to AYCO. This organization has directed me towards my professional path, sparked my ambition, surrounded me with people whose footsteps I want to follow in, and introduced me to the people I love most in this world. It has shown me acts of resilience, bravery, true humility and love.

I am eternally grateful to those who have come before me – individuals who have not only taken action, but also known when it was their time to move on and actively cultivate the next generation of leaders. Thank you to our founder Kevin O’Keefe, Erin Maile O’Keefe, Rick Davis, and Jackie Davis for showing me that it is possible to gracefully “pass it on” in the service of life and love. It takes bravery, I’m finding, to leave something good and true. I will never have adequate words to thank Zoe Brookes for her passionate dedication, love, honesty, and generosity – thank you for being my North Star.

Thanks to our membership, without whom AYCO/ACE would not exist. To every single board member whose tenure has aligned with mine – you are the backbone of AYCO and deserve immense gratitude from us all. Sincere thanks to the committee members who keep our programs growing, and to the staff who work tirelessly in the service of our mission. To Cirque du Soleil and every donor who has believed in us. To David Hunt for saying yes when I first approached AYCO in 2006, to Pam Ford for the simple gift of an introduction that would change my life, and to Carrie Heller who took care of my soul and spirit over the past year. Finally, thank you to Jesse AlFord for ever relishing in this deep and profound relationship in work and play, and to Sam Boyles for being on the journey with me always, ever open to balancing work and life and love.

It is with great confidence that I share that Tara Jacob will be taking on the role of interim ED while the board conducts a formal search for new leadership. Tara has been involved with AYCO for almost 10 years in a variety of capacities, and is already rising to the occasion to build a bridge so that the organization won’t miss a beat in the transition. She and Claire Dehm have been expertly and lovingly working for AYCO over the past year and the organization would not be what it is without them.

It is truly my hope that if you have been impacted by the beautiful web of AYCO that you will keep weaving. Honor the links and the ties, the growth and the change, the relationships and the profound community we have here. Look back at the brave, humble, giving people whose shoulders we all stand on. Look at where you are right now – appreciate that this space and place and galvanized community exists. Listen to the upcoming generations – they are a true gift to humanity and society.

AYCO did not spring up out of nowhere. It started with not only a dream, but actions taken to achieve that dream. It is my sincere hope that this organization will only multiply in its significance to the circus movement, and that you will be an active part of it.

Serving as Executive Director of AYCO and ACE has been the most powerful and significant force in my life. I am looking forward to remaining deeply connected to this community – to participating in new and different ways, and to continuing to develop the deep relationships that have been cultivated.

I look forward to seeing you at EdCon and elsewhere down the road. It is a true honor to pass it on.

In the spirit of circus,



Dear AYCO/ACE Community,

I am honored to take the role of interim executive director of AYCO/ACE. I believe fully in the mission and impact of our wonderful organization, and I look forward to keeping our high-level operations on course, following on from Amy Cohen’s years of amazing service and preparing for a more permanent administrative arrangement.

I first got involved with AYCO/ACE as one of the group of first-ever workstudy volunteers at the 2009 AYCOFest, where I was floored by the incredible sense of support and inspiration I got from being surrounded by circus community. A few years later, Amy reached out to me to ask about recruiting and managing a new youth-involvement group, the Hup Squad. I was then hired as the workstudy coordinator for the AYCOFest in August 2015, and loved being a part of the event production team.

Soon thereafter, I was invited to join the Board of Directors. I served on the board from October 2015 until June 2017. My time on the board has given me valued perspective on AYCO’s history and its singular strengths and challenges as a non-profit organization. I have seen the responsibility, clarity, and cooperation that it takes to be a successful guide in serving our vision and mission.

When the Accounts Manager position opened up in June 2017, it seemed like a perfect fit, using my skills in administrative organization and creating and maintaining customized systems to serve the wider circus community and support the growth of circus arts education in the USA. Through my work as Account Manager, I’ve come to know AYCO and ACE programs and resources, members and member organizations very well.

I am also currently on staff at SHOW Circus Studio, a recreational circus school in Easthampton, MA, where I have been a coach, production assistant, and operations assistant for the past 5 years. My background has given me a strong skillset in administrative oversight, client management, community outreach, and communications, and I am thrilled at the opportunity to put these to work for AYCO and ACE as interim Executive Director!

I want to thank Amy for everything she has given us: for her incredible dedication and vision, and the heart and expertise she has poured into her years of essential, developmental work. I feel a fierce sense of loyalty to AYCO and ACE, coupled with enthusiasm for further growth, and am excited to work with you all as we continue to strengthen our supportive and inspiring community.

Together for circus,

Tara Jacob


Dear Community,

We have been incredibly fortunate to have had Amy’s support in holding up this tent for so many years. While we are sad to see her go, we look forward to the next chapters of her life, and to witness how she continues to influence the world of circus, as we are all better circusers for having worked with her.

We are equally lucky to have Tara so well positioned to take the role as Interim Executive Director, while the Board of Directors takes the time to ensure we have appropriate support, tools, and resources in place for the next generation of leadership. Tara is the right person to keep the tent open while we search for our next Executive Director!

If you would like to be a part of the Succession Planning Committee, please reach out to the board at We are looking for one or two community members to join the committee, which currently consists of myself (Jesse AlFord), Jesse Dryden, Dan Roberts, and Jen Agans. If you don’t have the time to join the committee but still have thoughts to share, we would like to hear those as well! Please share any interest or comments by November 1st.

AYCO remains committed to our mission of promoting the participation of youth in circus arts and supporting circus educators, and will continue to work in pursuit of that mission through these seven vision points, as clarified at our Board Retreat earlier this year:

AYCO/ACE provides proactive support for the development of the circus education sector, creating an environment in which:

Youth circus participants are connected, engaged, and linked to resources and institutions that can help them pursue their chosen pathway in circus.

Circus educators and organizations are connected, engaged, and linked to resources and institutions that can help them pursue excellence in circus education.

The culture of safety in circus arts is developed and supported.

Capable circus arts professionals are available to meet industry demands and command respect and fair compensation.

Funders recognize circus arts as a tool for youth development and invest in its advancement.

The power of circus arts to heal trauma, build community and develop individuals is widely understood, and circus arts are extensively employed in therapeutic settings and to address social challenges.

Circus arts play a significant role in physical and arts education in schools.

The members of the Board and the Succession Planning Committee will be available for conversations at the Educators Conference in October, for anyone who would like to chat in person. We are excited to find and work with the next members of our team who will help us carry this vision forward, in support of the future generations of youth circus participants and educators!

In circus,

Jesse AlFord, AYCO Board President