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JOHNSTOWN, Pa. – Most people associate clowns with circuses and performing comical stunts to make audiences laugh, but when Paula Speicher clowns around she’s doing it at hospitals to reach out to young patients or at nursing homes to find a way to connect with elderly residents. Speicher, president/CEO and treasurer of Lee Hospital CU, has been clowning for 11 years as part of her involvement with “The Classic Clowns of Johnstown,” an organization that’s part of the “Christian Clowns” that she describes as being “clowns based under the premise of God and Christianity, caring for people and being sensitive.” Speicher explains that, “There are a lot of clowns that aren’t trained properly and are aggressive. We’re trained to know how to read a person’s body language and facial expression to know if they’re afraid. A clown can be intimidating for a lot of people – children and adults,” she says. “Giggles” – the name Speicher uses when she clowns – uses various techniques to get people who are apprehensive or scared of her in her clown costume, to relax. With children, for example, she may sit on the floor, with her back to the child, blowing bubbles with one hand and holding a ball in the other. When she throws the ball in the air and then catches it, Speicher says the child thinks she’s caught a bubble. She then offers the bubble/ball to the child who has to come to Speicher if they want to take it. She may try the same technique when she performs in a nursing home or she sometimes makes animals out of balloons. “A lot of adults in nursing homes have dementia, so they’re really almost like children,” she says. Speicher has gone through special training through Classic Clowns to perform at Hospices, and she says the training she goes through teaches the clowns to listen, and not to talk. “Nobody has time in healthcare to do that.” -

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