COLUMBIA, Mo. - Following the old adage that laughter is the best medicine, University of Missouri Extension 4-H members put on makeup and wigs to bring some laughter to people in hospitals and nursing homes.
Each year, more than 100 Missouri 4-H members learn the art of clowning and perform skits in a variety of venues. Recently they performed for a group of veterans at the Harry S. Truman Memorial Veterans' Hospital in Columbia.
"Being sick is no fun," said Dana Abendschein, who taught a 4-H workshop about the art of clowning. "Anything that can kind of give a distraction and help us to laugh really helps us through that situation. Our goal is that they would go home and be able to do this again and would be encouraged to go out and make other people laugh, too."
"We're always proud to see these young people and have them talk to us," said Virgil Moore, a World War II veteran who regularly goes to Truman Hospital for medical treatments. "When these people were putting on their show it was real entertainment, something different."
Moore's wife, Hilda, said the show gives Virgil and other veterans a time to laugh and to take a break from health concerns and the predictability of their daily schedules.
"It's a routine that they all get tired of, and when the young people come in and entertain them, it is just excellent," she said. "I appreciate it as much as he does."
But clowning is not only for those being entertained. "Through clowning, 4-H'ers build communication abilities, develop performing arts skills, build new relationships with others and strengthen self-confidence," said Bradd Anderson, a state 4-H leadership and communication specialist with MU Extension.
Meredith Brunkow, a 4-H member from Kearney, Mo., says clowning is much more than makeup and a colorful wig. "It's a new way for me to come out of my shell," she said. "I'm not like the same person as I am without makeup."
The 4-H clowning members learn acting and public speaking skills, how to apply makeup, the basics of pantomime and even a few magic tricks.
"Just seeing them laugh gives me a really good feeling inside, seeing that I did something for these people, because just in this little time I got to do something to help them forget their worries," Brunkow said.
For more information about the 4-H clowning project, see the University of Missouri Extension 4-H Web site at http://www.4h.missouri.edu.