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Copyright 2009-2010 by
Mary Brotherton
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Inside my Brain

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Thursday, February 24, 2005

Care Clowns

This had to be one of the most fun articles I ever interviewed for or wrote.

“Duh! I am wearing someone else’s underwear,” might not sound like a glamorous statement, but to the teenaged Care Clowns from Girl Scout troops 293 and 1771, these words are as important as any history lesson. Dozens of Girl Scouts between the ages of 12 and 14 were at the Sunflower House on Saturday, December 13th to work on their leadership projects, and they learned that certain words always make people laugh, including “duh” and ”underwear.”

The Sunflower Coalition of Caregivers, also known as the Sunflower House is located in the Merritt Square Mall and helps people connect with caregivers by offering resources through an established network of information and support. One of the people in this network is Karen Mills, also known as Suzy Sunflower.

Suzy Sunflower has been a Therapeutic Clown with Parrish Medical Center for a year, but Karen Mills has been clowning around all her life. As a retired Activity Director, she said that even if she did not wear outlandish makeup or special clothes, “Being a clown is just part of what I did.” Ms. Mills learned much about therapeutic clowning from T.J. “Bubba” Sikes, but she draws inspiration from Red Skelton’s hobo clown, “Freddy the Freeloader.”

Suzy Sunflower has become so well known in the local hospitals, that if Karen Mills visits family members and speaks, her voice gives away her secret identity. The excited nurses call out, “You’re the clown! You’re Suzy Sunflower!” Ms. Mills enjoys her dual role, but more than anything, she enjoys hearing someone tell her, “You really made my day.”

Ms. Mills taught her first Care Clown Class in December, but she hopes to have enough interest in the program so that she can conduct classes four times a year. She believes that the enthusiasm of the girls she met through the Sunflower House will be contagious, and more will want to join the Care Clown Brigade. Care Clowns work primarily with Senior Citizens in hospitals and Nursing homes or long term care facilities.

Anyone can learn to be a care clown, but currently Ms. Mills is working with the Girl Scouts, who she called “Hilarious!” She said that watching these young ladies become clowns was like watching a mysterious transformation. “They were all attentive, prim, and proper as I told them when the makeup is on-you have to become a clown. They took me seriously. Their personalities transformed before my eyes and they totally whacked out!” She said, “I wish I could have taken a photograph of them before and after, but you can’t photograph a personality. They were like different girls. It was wonderful.”

The Care Clown trainees must undergo sensitivity training; learn how to move, how to apply makeup that suits their particular personalities, and how to dress in order to be more than just a cute kid in oversized sneakers and a pair of baggy pants. Therapeutic clowns learn how to accept when a patient simply does not want to be cheered up, as well as how to cheer up those who do.

Care clowns don’t perform, yet performance is part of the service they provide. Anyone interested in becoming a Care Clown must be compassionate, mindful, and playful while engendering trust. They must possess humor and humility as well as courage. It may not be easy to be a Care Clown, but the rewards far outweigh the costs.

For more information about the Sunflower House, call Marcia Mario at 452-4341; and for more information about Care Clown Classes, call Karen Mills at 636-5696.