A Magical Connection — Kids with Down Syndrome and Clowning

There are two populations who are very child-like in their feelings, thoughts and actions.

One is children with Down syndrome. The other………clowns. Put the two populations together and the result is nothing short of magical.

Deb “Giggles” Foy, a practicing clown for 30 years and member of Caring Clowns International, had the inspiration to share the gift of clowning with adults and children with Down syndrome….not just performing for them….but actually teaching them how to clown.

Giggles put her vision in motion. She contacted the Down Syndrome Guild of South Eastern Michigan and, with the help of fellow Caring Clowns International member Lorrie “LorBelle” Garison and other clowns from the organization, taught a two-day class for 12 children and adults. Proper make up techniques, costumes, performing, balloons. Everything a “newbie” clown needs to know. The special needs kids brought their own natural “magical moment” qualities which can’t be taught.

Upon “graduation” the newbie clowns visited the Sunrise Senior Living community in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.

“Bringing the Down syndrome clowns and the senior residents together was magical,” said Giggles. Giggles recalls one parent who attended the senior living visit. She was nearly brought to tears as she watched her son – now as a clown – approach one Sunrise resident who was sitting alone in a corner. She explained that it was the first time her son was on the opposite end of receiving attention. That now HE was giving of himself to someone.

The performance at the nursing home might not live up to “normal” clown standards. Costumes and make up were simple. There were no fancy or complicated animal balloons or sword balloons. But it didn’t matter to the nursing home residents.

“We just shared a moment, a laugh, a smile, a heart-spring connection,” Giggles said. “God wired and made these Down syndrome kids that way….to be child-like and loving. Those are the perfect attributes of a good clown. It’s a gift…clowns are gifts to the people we touch.”

Paulette Duggins, Executive Director of the Down Syndrome Guild of Southeast Detroit agrees that it was a winning formula. “The students were very excited and it was very positive for the seniors,” she said. She credits Giggles and LoraBelle for putting the students at ease and working prior to the class on learning how teaching students with disabilities differs from other teaching methods.

Based on the clowning school success, Giggles and LoraBelle were invited to attend the National Down Syndrome Congress Annual Convention in July 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana. They performed in the opening ceremony as a clown, but more importantly presented two sessions to convention attendees. They shared a moving video of the clown class and nursing home visit with attendees at the convention in the hope that other Affiliates would launch similar programs locally in their cities and towns.

“We have 250 other affiliates like us, “ Duggins said. “I think it’s a program others would be interested in.”

Giggles said she got the inspiration to do something locally with a special needs group after returning from an exhaustive but rewarding clowning gig in Africa. Giggles and three other clowns from Caring Clowns International spent three weeks visiting orphanages, schools and hospitals in Ethiopia and Uganda. Caring Clowns International is an all-volunteer, IRS tax-exempt 501(c)(3) charitable nonprofit organization comprised of clowns across the U.S. and several other countries. These clowns donate their time at over 80 events internationally and across the U.S. including orphanages, children’s and other hospitals, events for homeless children and adults, residences for abused women and children, schools for the disabled, retirement center, VA hospitals, prisons and correctional facilities, etc.

The inspiration quickly spread. Lois “Coco” Kerr, also a Caring Clowns International member and board member, hosted a similar clown class in her community in Kent, Washington. Attending were junior and high school students with special needs including those with Down syndrome. Coco, along with Michael “Banjo” Honstain and Cal “Nok Nok” Ainley also Caring Clowns International members, taught a clown class to 15 eager students.

After learning simple magic tricks and balloon twisting, the students entertained residents at Arbor Village Continuing Care Retirement Community in Kent.

Like Giggles, Coco sees the magical connection. “The bonding with the residents, they enjoyed it so much,” Coco said.

The program in South Eastern Michigan and Washington are living proof of the Caring Clown International’s mission — to free the “inner kid” in children and adults alike.

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Deb “Giggles” Foy (center) and Lorrie “LorBelle” Garison pose with one of their newbie clown graduates.

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Deb “Giggles” Foy and Paulette Duggins, Executive Director of the Down Syndrome Guild of Southeast Detroit enjoy a moment with one of the clown students.

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The students learned the importance of make up in expressing a clown’s personality.

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Proof that clowning is a lot of fun!!

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Jed “Duffy” Selter enjoys a moment with one of the newbie clowns.

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The newbie clowns then visited a continuing care community entertaining residents there.

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Clown “teachers” at the event in Kent, Washington include Sally “Geniblue” Hansen, Cal “NokNok” Ainle, Lois “CoCo” Kerr, Mike “Banjo” Honstain.




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Caring Clowns International is an all volunteer 501(c)(3) charitable nonprofit organization.