June 16, 2008
Send in the Clowns
I met a clown today! His name, believe it or not, is Schnookums, and I suspect that as Schnookums he has changed many lives. Known as Dr. Neal Goldberg in his "regular" life, this clown-with-a-heart is the inspiration behind Lev Leytzan – Compassionate Clown Alley, a New York-based medical clown training program that attracts teens and young adults and teaches them the very special art of medical clowning. Neal is a warm and compassionate person which, no doubt, accounts for his success as a therapist with a large teenage component to his practice.
Schmoozing over some lunch today we heard Neal’s story about how he became interested in clowning and how that led him to the decision to try to encourage teens to take part in this special art. As a therapist Neal was the co-author of a book designed to help teens deal with the death of a close friend or family member. It was from those experiences writing the book that he came to think about how the act of giving of oneself can do amazing things to the "donor" – sometimes even more beneficial than what is "received" on the other end. This is not a new theme for us-it is something we hear from so many of the good people we work with. In the case of the teens who are part of the troupe, Neal knows that for many, clowning has awakened new insights and has helped them overcome difficult personal situations.
Being a member of Lev Leytzan (heart of the clown, in English) requires a tremendous commitment on the part of the teens that have come on board. Everyone is trained by both professional clowns from some of the most recognized names in clown performance, and medical doctors and mental health professionals who explore the medical and psychological aspects of medical clowning. Neal shared many moving stories with us of just how much of an impact this activity can have on the kids who have joined.
In addition to the usual hospital and nursing home visits the kids make, there are two other special aspects of this program that we were excited about. Through the generosity of a donor, members of the troupe have traveled to Israel for the past three years and performed throughout the country as medical clowns almost non-stop for a nine or ten day visit. While there they also give away thousands of dollars worth of toys to the children they meet.
The second aspect of the program deals with fire safety and has reached literally thousands of school-age children throughout the greater New York area. The "Clowns for Safety Squad" has taught fire safety and burn prevention using clowning and circus technique to more than 30,000 kids. We wonder how many tragedies have been averted by this creative but critically important activity.
What’s on tap for the future of Compassionate Clown Alley? Neal has many dreams but it looks as if one of them is about to become a reality. Why should this fabulous program be available only to kids in New York? Neal’s hope is that before too long, clowns will be performing their magic in several other major cities here in the States and in Canada.
To help the clowns in their very special work, the Good People Fund is sending some funds to help pay for the white medical coats all qualified clowns receive after they have successfully completed their training. As medical professionals, they deserve to look the part!