Catholic Charities to honor improv artists who bring joy to St. Joseph’s Home

| November 30, 2017 | 1 Comment

Improvisation artists Adam Fielitz, left, and Jim DeSimone teach their craft to youths at St. Joseph’s Home for Children in Minneapolis. Catholic Charities, which operates the home, named the two men winners of the Life of Distinction award. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Two local improvisation artists have relied on their talent for quick-thinking and flexibility as they’ve adapted their teaching approach to fit a group of youths living with mental illness at the St. Joseph’s Home for Children in Minneapolis.

“Initially, we were just trying to teach them improv,” said Adam Fielitz, 43. “They’re not always in that right place, so for us, it’s about motivating them to play.”

Fielitz and fellow improv colleague Jim DeSimone, 50, help around 10 youths unpack their creativity each week in a commons area at the Catholic Charities-run youth home. Catholic Charities will honor Fielitz and DeSimone Dec. 7 with the Life of Distinction award for service at the annual St. Nicholas Dinner in Minneapolis.

Each week, they begin by leading the youths through basic improv games to break the ice. The instructors then set up a scene for the youths with specific roles.

“What they do often is just spectacular,” Fielitz said. “It’s fantastic.”

The duo credit the staff support at St. Joseph’s Home for the success of their improv venture. As for the award, “if this gets out awareness of volunteer opportunities, that’s great,” said Fielitz, a Minneapolis resident. “The staff at St. Joe’s should get the award. They do this day in and day out. We get to come in for an hour and then leave.”

DeSimone, a parishioner of Our Lady of Grace in Edina, added: “When they told us about it, I was like, ‘Oh, I didn’t ever expect to get recognized for this. It’s an honor.”

DeSimone teaches improv with his company, Henry’s Hat Inc., in addition to his work as a field representative with the U.S. Census Bureau. He also has performed with ComedySportz and the HUGE Improv Theater in Minneapolis. DeSimone got his start in improv in the 1990s with The Second City theater in Toronto before coming to the Twin Cities.

Fielitz’s interest in improv began as a youth in Chicago when he could see “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” in person at The Annoyance Theatre and Bar in Chicago. He began performing while attending St. Mary’s University of Minnesota in Winona.

While he primarily works as a corporate trainer with Verizon Wireless, he has performed and taught improv around the metro for 24 years. He has performed with Minneapolis theaters Brave New Workshop, ComedySportz and The Mystery Cafe.

Though not a Catholic, Fielitz grew up knowing Brother Warren Longo, who became an Alexian Brother in St. Louis. Fielitz said Brother Warren’s influence has been lasting.

“He’s been a lifetime family friend — one of the kindest people I know,” Fielitz said. “He’s generous and giving.”

Fielitz himself felt inspired to give back while attending a Martin Luther King Jr. breakfast in Minneapolis several years ago and heard Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey speak about the importance of service. Fielitz spent about nine months mulling over those words but not knowing what exactly he wanted to do.

“The one thing that’s easy for me to give back is improv,” Fielitz said. “I know what joy it brings people.”

He learned about Catholic Charities through a co-worker and contacted St. Joseph’s Home five years ago about doing improv with the children. The institution accepted the offer.

When he couldn’t make it, he asked DeSimone to fill in. DeSimone then wanted to join Fielitz every week.

“It’s been incredibly challenging and wonderfully rewarding,” DeSimone said.

St. Joseph’s Home director Jon Stumbras has seen the impact of DeSimone and Fielitz on the children.

“It’s always a surprise when they come,” Stumbras said. “You find some kids who you never think would respond to this because they’re fairly introverted and don’t express themselves, but they use this as an outlet for themselves and they just blossom in front of the group with the kind of exercises that they do and the improvisation.”

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  • StPaulMom

    It’s great that Catholic Charities provides so much support for all of those one income families raising their children Catholic, sending their kids to Catholic school or homeschooling…..oh wait….