The activity room is dim at Sky Park Gardens Assisted Living in South Sacramento until an orange-clad clown named Sammie sweeps in as sweet as the sunshine. Quietly, compassionately she seeks a connection with each senior or disabled person in the room. She is goofy, she laughs, she plays with them. She sings "Let Me Call you Sweetheart," looking deep into the teary eyes of a tired soul.
"Would you like to dance," she asks Andrew Robertson, right, who is hesitant at first but can't resist her coaxing. Suzanna Hoye is a professional clown with part of her business being "clown care" for seniors. As the economy faltered some facilities could no longer afford to hire her, but Hoye still comes. "How many people are lonely and need that connection?" she says. "It's feeding my soul to be so close to people and the extra attention is so important."
Hoye was trained as a clown in the Netherlands, in a different style than the boistrous over-the-top clowning style that is typical in the United States. Her makeup is simple and cheerful, and only takes five minutes to apply. She says she's not a circus clown that does tricks. "I cannot juggle and I hate balloons," she says. Her main tool is her ukelele. One could hardly be afraid of such a gentle, approachable clown.
"If you respect people's boundaries you will win them over," Hoye says. "You disarm people that way because they know you are safe."
Hoye is sensitive to the moods of those around her and adapts her clowning to the individuals she encounters. "I go with whatever they come up with. I try to have them be the ones in control of what's going to happen," she says. "I empower them to be the director. They feel seen in that moment."
Employing her magic in this way Hoye has heard seniors who hadn't spoken in years speak in full sentences and seen people with alzheimers or dementia regain their memory - if even for a second.
Hoye's training began in 1999. She then went on tour with Patch Adams in Russia and discovered the benefit clowning can have for seniors. Returning to the Netherlands she worked full time performing in homes for the elderly for 8 years. Now, living in the U.S. she splits her clowning between clown care and other clowning activities. For more information on Sammie the clown please visit http://www.facebook.com/WayOfTheClown.
Do you know someone who gives of themselves to help others? Please send suggestions for the I Care column to Autumn Payne at email@example.com