Charity is a ‘Win-Win’
Jeff Civillico’s energetic and daring production, “Comedy in Action” has migrated from Planet Hollywood to The Linq to The Flamingo to its current home at Paris Las Vegas. When he’s not cracking wise while juggling atop his unicycle, Civillico, a dedicated champion of charitable causes, is chairman and founder of Win-Win Entertainment, which connects performers and charities in Las Vegas. Recently, Civillico was named celebrity spokesman of the Las Vegas Natural History Museum. Oh, and he also loves “joggling” — which is juggling while jogging. Since he has been known to juggle bowling balls and chainsaws and even balance a 10-foot ladder on his chin, drivers and pedestrians are advised to give him a wide berth.
As entertainers, we spend so much time marketing and promoting ourselves.
There is overwhelming pressure all the time to sell tickets, build our online presence, build our brand, book shows — basically, to “put yourself out there.” It’s always, “Look at me! Look at me!” We humble-brag on social media because we feel we have to just to get noticed with all the other distractions and entertainment options competing for attention, especially in Las Vegas.
However, shows for Win-Win Entertainment activate an entirely different part of performers’ heads and hearts — the part we use to help others.
Here’s how Win-Win won the hearts of Las Vegans
Founded in 2011, Win-Win Entertainment is a Las Vegas-based, 501c3 national nonprofit (federally tax-exempt) that creates opportunities for professional performers to share their time and talent with children in need. We do this by establishing regularly recurring programs with community partners in four main youth sectors: Healthcare, At-Risk/Foster Care, Specials Needs, and Education.
In Las Vegas, we provide entertainment for a dozen-plus organizations including UMC Children’s Hospital, Sunrise Children’s Hospital, Summerlin Children’s Hospital, Dignity Health Hospitals, St. Jude’s Ranch for Children, Project Sunshine Nevada, Core Academy, Miracle League of Las Vegas, and Spread the Word Nevada. We also serve three facilities outside of Las Vegas: the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children and the Florida Hospital for Children, both in Orlando; and the Children’s Minnesota Hospital in Minneapolis.
Win-Win is 100 percent volunteer-based, including executive and advisory boards, and all the performers donate their time for events. To date, we have arranged more than 1,000 charity performances.
Stars, sponsors and volunteers embrace the Win-Win philosophy
The Las Vegas community has embraced Win-Win Entertainment more than I ever could have hoped, or planned for! I could never have anticipated how deeply the work we are doing in the community would resonate, and as a result, how quickly we would grow as an organization. It seems like every day a new performer is reaching out to us, wanting to get involved.
Over the years we’ve been fortunate enough to have headliners including Mac King, Mike Hammer, the Tenors of Rock, the Bronx Wanderers, the “Menopause the Musical” cast, Human Nature and many more donate their time. We’ve had the support of singers, dancers, comedians, jugglers, magicians, stilt walkers, face painters, costumed characters — you name it!
We’re fortunate enough to have generous sponsors, many of whom have supported us since our inception, including The John C. Kish Foundation, Caesars Entertainment Corp. Cirque du Soleil, Vegas.com, Entertainment Benefits Group, AEG Live, SPI Entertainment, 3G/Enclave and more. Our passionate volunteers provide directions and logistical support, escort performers around hospitals, take pictures and set up chairs and audiovisual equipment when needed. They do whatever it takes to make sure our performers feel comfortable, and to ensure a smooth event. We want performers to have a great experience doing a Win-Win show, so they’ll continue to volunteer with us.
How an entertainer learned to balance professionalism and humanitarianism
The first “real” show I ever performed was a charity show, at age 14. I say “real” because up until that point, the only shows I had done previously were in my kitchen for my parents and grand-mom after dinner — a bit of a biased audience, you could say!
During my freshman year of high school we were tasked with a service project to do something outside of our comfort zone, write a reflection of it, and then discuss that experience with our guidance counselor. Magic and juggling had been hobbies of mine for a while at this point, having been inspired by a juggling street performer in Harvard Square in Cambridge, Mass, who chose me as a volunteer on a family trip.
As my friends volunteered at nursing homes and soup kitchens, I debuted my “big show” at Don Guanella Village, a special needs home in our neighborhood. I can trace a lot of who I am today to that show— not just my passion for volunteering, but more generally my passion for performing. That experience was so moving that I continued to perform charity shows in the Philadelphia area throughout my high school years. I started a juggling club at my high school and we would perform for special needs groups, and at various other community and charity events. We were pretty huge on the Philly nursing home circuit, let me tell ya!
I carried that love for doing charity shows with me as I got older and turned pro. I performed charity shows in Washington D.C. throughout college for groups including Best Buddies International and Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, and again when I moved to Orlando at Florida Hospital Celebration Health, and Give Kids the World Village. It was only natural that I would start doing charity shows in Las Vegas when I moved here in 2010.
Snowball effect in the desert
As I began doing those shows, hospitals and organizations that I served would ask me if I could come back soon or send another performer to visit. Being a very social connector-type, I’ve always had a large network of entertainers to whom I could reach out and most of them would say yes.
Since I had the contacts, I became a sort of “charity agent” — there was no money being exchanged, but I was matching up performers with charities and handling all the logistics and follow-up. Performers were having such powerful experiences that they became advocates for Win-Win. They would post their experiences on social media, and tell their friends at parties and industry events. It’s a testament to the Las Vegas entertainment community that Win-Win Entertainment has grown so quickly. I don’t think people outside of Las Vegas realize how much love there is in the entertainment industry, and how willing most performers are to give back when the opportunity is presented to them.
Most performers are good people who want to volunteer. They want to give back, they’re just busy with their own lives. But if you make it easy for performers to volunteer, then they will volunteer — happily.
You wanna help?
Get involved: If you know professional entertainers that you think might want to participate, please send them our way. If you know bighearted volunteers who want to help out, please send them our way. If you know of corporations, family foundations or generous individuals who may want to sponsor one of our programs, please send them our way.
Spread the word: Visit our website: winwinentertainment.org. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter: @winwincharity.
Donate: Like any nonprofit we need donations, sponsors and the generosity of others to fulfill our mission. Although we have no paid staff, we still have the costs of running a very active organization that is expanding nationally.
The future? That’s a Win-Win, too
In our first full year, 2012, our goal was to arrange one charity performance a month for the Las Vegas community — 12 for the year. By 2015, thanks to our dedicated family of entertainers, volunteers, and sponsors, we arranged 223 charity performances that year. We saw that what we were doing was resonating with the Las Vegas community and we knew we had to grow.
After five successful years operating exclusively in Las Vegas, in January 2017 we began laying the groundwork to expand nationally. We are now building our national performer database and establishing philanthropic programs for professional entertainers in new cities.
Flooding our hearts with happiness
Performers often say they’re really busy the day of a Win-Win show and only have 30 minutes or so to spend at the hospital, and they end up being there for four hours. When you are interacting with a child in a hospital room, there’s nothing more important than that moment. You don’t think about what time it is, you don’t look at your phone, you don’t care about Instagram. You just want to be 100 percent present in that moment, to do whatever you can to make that child feel a little bit better for those few moments you are with them.
All performers want the big venues with the big crowds, but there’s something so powerful about sharing your time and talent in the intimate setting of a hospital room or a foster home. I love that feeling when I’m performing Win-Win shows myself, and I love that feeling when I’m arranging Win-Win shows for other performers to experience that sense of love and fulfillment.
The experiences that entertainers have at Win-Win events put life into perspective. All of a sudden your problems don’t really seem like problems anymore. (Visit Jeff Civillico online at www.jeffcivillico.com)
Voices of Vegas features guest columnists from all walks of public life in Las Vegas. With columns touching on local cultural, historical, social, civic, educational and humanitarian topics, among others, they weave a tapestry of perspectives that emphasize the dynamism, depth and benefits of the Southern Nevada tourism industry.