Clowns on Call
While he was going through training at the Magic City Clown School, Mike Coppage of Birmingham, Ala., kept hearing other clowns talk about the "million-dollar smile." He had never seen it himself until one Sunday afternoon when he was honing his face-painting skills in the lobby at Children's of Alabama. A five-year-old boy spotted the clowns and asked if they could make him into Spider-Man.
They gave him a full Spider-Man face painting and then handed him a mirror. "His face lit up," Mike remembers. "And everybody said, "That's the million-dollar smile.' It really drove home why we do what we do."
Mike—"Beanie the Clown," as he's known to the children he meets at the hospital —is one of about 30 clowns who make regular appearances and brings much-needed moments of laughter to children and their families who are confronting frightening illnesses, injuries and other healthcare crises.
Magic City Clown School co-founders Charlotte "Lot-Tee-Dah" Dismukes and Clydene "Lil' Darlin'" Dyer started the school after they became clowns at Children’s. They kept meeting other volunteers who wanted to join the fun, but there wasn’t a program to train them locally. So they recruited instructors who freely donate their time. To date they have trained more than 250 clowns in costuming, skits, balloon twisting, puppetry and all other areas of clowning. Many of the graduates volunteer at Children’s, and a number of them also make appearances at other hospitals, nursing facilities, and charity events.
Charlotte says they come from all walks of life to learn clowning, from business people to pastors. Mike, for instance, is a prominent figure in law enforcement. He has served as Birmingham's police chief, then director of public safety for Alabama, and now is director of public safety and emergency management for Samford University.
Mike, who enrolled in clown school about three years ago after seeing the Children's clowns in a local news feature, knows that for the few who recognize him as Beanie, his two identities seem like polar opposites. "But the ones who know me well say, 'Well, you've always been a clown,'" he laughs.
Charlotte says that for the clowns, putting on the costume and makeup gives them a chance to let down their guards and really be themselves. "With Beanie, the kids have no idea the positions he's held," she says. "They just know they love Beanie with the big spinning hat."
The propeller hat Beanie always wears is his trademark. He has two of them - one with a single propeller, another with two. "I tell them I can't wear the two-propeller on windy days, because it will carry me off," he jokes, adding that the kids are delighted when the air conditioner blows and makes his hat spin.
Charlotte and Mike both say they feel privileged to get to know the families at Children's. "Some of the kids have to be there for a while, or they go and have to come back, so we really get to know them," Mike says. "And this isn't only for the kids. It's also for their brothers and sisters and parents. We give them a little bit of comic relief, and I think they enjoy that."
"We don't make a huge difference, but we do make a difference," Charlotte says. "Sometimes people try to pat us on the back and say, 'You're so wonderful! But really, we just cannot believe God lets us do this. We love what we're doing."
Regions is a proud supporter of CHILDREN'S OF ALABAMA.