AMANDA O'Leary was sitting outside Mollie Nye House Wednesday when two seniors approached her.
Dressed in her clown costume for a pending North Shore News photo shoot, O'Leary had piqued their curiosity.
Having arrived early, O'Leary, a North Vancouver resident who has 13 years of clowning under her belt, figured what better way to pass the time than to entertain the inquisitive gentleman and lady.
"I blew up a balloon and I made it into a flower and I put it on her wrist," she says. "Well, you would have thought I gave her gold."
O'Leary watched the grateful couple walk back to the adjacent Sunrise of Lynn Valley care centre. Soon after, another woman approached, asking whether she'd been the one to make "that beautiful balloon."
O'Leary responded positively and the new arrival went on to say, "You cannot believe how proud that woman is."
In the moments that followed, four more people came out looking for the mystery balloon twister.
O'Leary serves as the World Clown Association's caring clown director and believes in the positive power of caring clowning, which are performances tailored to make a positive impact on the quality of life of seniors living in care facilities as well as patients in hospitals, bringing them joy, laughter, fun, companionship and healing. She views her experience Wednesday as a perfect example of the craft in action.
"That's caring clowning. All I did was I made something for (the woman) that I thought might brighten her day," she says.
In addition to being a caring clown, O'Leary also presents caring clowning training programs. While she's offered workshops elsewhere in North America, as well as overseas, she's excited to be finally bringing the program to her hometown and has partnered with Mollie Nye House to offer the program in North Vancouver starting this fall. In addition to creating an arsenal of caring clowns to serve local residents, the program is intended to offer a unique volunteer opportunity to community members.
"By giving to somebody else, the return you get on that is phenomenal," says O'Leary.
The caring clown training program, open to all adults, including seniors, will be offered in three parts. The first, basic clowning, will get underway Oct. 19. For six weeks, participants will meet weekly for three hours. Part two, intermediate clowning and caring clown, will get underway in the new year, and is an eight-week program. Following that, interested participants will complete a two-month practicum in a North Shore care facility. So far, Sunrise of Lynn Valley and Lynn Valley Care Centre have expressed an interest in being a host site and more are welcome to come on board.
"If you're going to be a caring clown, you've got to be the best clown possible," says O'Leary, who has an ongoing relationship with Mollie Nye House, having performed there as well as offered magic training workshops.
Through the caring clown program, O'Leary aims to provide participants with the know-how to offer entertaining, compassionate care.
"A lot of people just assume that you put on big shoes and away you go. You can look picture perfect and be a terrible clown. You can scare the whoop out of everybody just because you don't know what you're doing. You're like a bull in a china shop," says O'Leary.
This is especially important for caring clowning as it's typically administered in closer proximity than standard clown performances - usually more one-on-one.
"You might be a foot and a half or two feet away from the person that you're trying to entertain, so it's a difference in makeup, a difference in costume, a difference in attitude, the way you present yourself, what you use as your props," says O'Leary.
An important focus of her workshops is to instill the lesson that "it ain't about you," she says, a means of encouraging her clowns-in-training to be sensitive to the needs of those they're serving with a goal of truly connecting with them and making them "feel like a million dollars."
Gillian Konst, programme and events manager of Mollie Nye House, is excited to be bringing the caring clown program to the North Shore.
"We love finding little niches here at Mollie Nye," she says.
"I have seen (Amanda) in so many different situations, working with people of all ages. . . and her ability to read people and to respond to them and engage with them is absolutely amazing," she adds.
Konst views the program as a unique opportunity for community members to help others and give back.
"For seniors living in more isolated situations, in care homes or going through illnesses, to have a little bit of joy brought into their lives is perhaps the most wonderful thing you can do," she says.
Interested community members are encouraged to attend a free information session Friday, Oct. 5 at 2 p.m. at Mollie Nye House.
The program will cost approximately $300 for part one, $400 for part two and $75 for the practicum. Members of the Lynn Valley Community Association and Lynn Valley Seniors Association are eligible for a discounted rate.
For more information, contact Gillian Konst at 6049875820 or email@example.com, or visit mollienye.com or amandaoleary.com.