FROM THE FIELD
Monday, October 12th, was the first day for students and staff back on campus at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon after the October 1st shootings that killed nine and wounded nine others. Red Nose Response was there, hoping to bring gentle humor, relief, and distraction from the tragedy.
It was an intense day full of tears, smiles, melancholy, small, heartwarming moments of joy, reflection, volunteer and community support, comforting words, and first steps in trying to return to normalcy.
Since it was not the time or the place for a clown in makeup or costume, Mike "Buster" Bednarek of Salem (OR), showed up as a Red Nose Responder in street clothes, RNR t-shirt and name badge, red high tops, and a satchel full of paper napkin roses. Mike was the lone RNR representative that day because the relief effort and opportunity for a Red Nose Response had come together so quickly. The invitation from UCC was received late Friday, October 9th.
The following is a detailed description of the events of the day.
It was a long, intense day. Up at 3:45 AM after a restless half-night's sleep, and on the road an hour later, Mike pulled into the dark, pre-dawn campus at 6:50 AM, past the media trucks and community well-wishers that were just starting to set up. Staff and students would start arriving sometime after 7:00 AM. It was cold out, too, just 46 degrees, and because the forecast was for 80 degrees and sun, he hadn't packed and dressed for a possible outdoor, early morning post. Nervous energy kept him warm.
After checking in, he went back to the car, refocused, and sorted through all of the many supplies and props that he'd brought along - he was prepared for just about anything - and then trundled off to The Compass, a central meeting area and crossroads right in the middle of campus, with a fanny pack full of red paper napkin roses, a red bowler, and a water bottle.
RNR and "smiles to the rescue" took the shape of red paper napkin roses, supportive and encouraging words, and hugs that day to help UCC take a step in the healing process.
After five and a half hours, about 140 hand-twisted red roses, and numerous conversations, Mike walked away with arms cramped and fingers bruised from the paper napkin rose twisting (he wasn't used to or prepared for non-stop, marathon napkin rose production), but he had a warm glow from having helped out, even in a small way. With music turned up and windows open to fight off exhaustion, he hit the road, arriving safely home in Salem, 125 miles north.
The day had been both rewarding and exhausting. But the real story was the strength of heart at UCC.
UPDATE: Just when you wonder if you made a difference, you get a message that says you did indeed make a difference. This came from the contact person with whom Mike Bednarek coordinated his response at UCC.
"I didn't have an opportunity to touch base with you after your visit to UCC. I wanted to thank you for taking the time to come to our campus and to share your gifts with our staff and students. I know the paper roses and your gentle kindness were much appreciated. I still see the roses in various offices around campus (as well as my own).
You played a role in helping our community move forward in our days of recovery and healing.
Warmest regards, Marjan"
It was very somber when I walked in. A few children were trying to draw on construction paper at one table. Another group of little boys, about ages 8 to 10, were very quiet, subdued and clinging closely to their father. However, when I said I could paint their faces and that I had tattoos, the change was magical. These children, all of them, boys and girls, toddlers to teens, became the bouncy children we like to see.
I was also able to talk quietly with some elderly people at the shelter, encouraging them to eat and drink something. When I handed out my napkin roses even those frightened people perked up.
When I tucked a little guy into bed that night on his cot he was worried that his clown face would rub off. I told him it would stay. The next morning I was back as he wakened, popped out of bed and put his red nose on. At that same time a woman walked into the shelter in meltdown mode and crying. As she saw the little clown she laughed and told him he put a smile on her face. When the father told her I had done the face she came over to say that I had put a smile on her face.
When flooding came to New Jersey, brought in by a Nor'easter, the local Red Cross chapters were busy setting up shelters and providing comfort to communities displaced by the rising flood waters. One of the staff of the Bergen-Hudson chapter is Barbara "Glitter" Beigel, a RNR responder.
Glitter went home, put on some clown makeup and called Elaine "Daisy D Dots" Vercellone to say "we have work to do.” Off went two of our finest to help at the shelters. They were well received, photographed and written up by the Bergen-Hudson chapter newsletter.
Daisy explained that while the kids love them, their performances were for adults too so they can take their minds off what happened for a little while. She went on to say "They've been through so much and have to stay strong for their kids. Clowning breaks the tension and helps them relax so they can make it through the next part."
"Here, children see that people care about them without even knowing them," Daisy D Dots concludes. "It's really great to be part of that.”
The photo here shows Randy "Bible Bubba" Harbin and Ron "Spangle" Poindexter entertaining kids at the Joplin North YMCA, in exuberant dressed down look. Randy was headed to Joplin to see what he could do to help his mother and Spangle hitched his wagon to Randy.
It is not unusual for a clown to feel that he/she isn't funny or "a clown" without the costume and make-up. When you do venture out in less than full clown and find out that people still experience you with joy and giggles and say "thank you, clown," you will feel more confident the next time.
As Bob Gretton (former RNR President) advises, at most, wear your nose. We all have the heart of a clown. That is all you need.
TELL US YOUR STORY:
OR WRITE TO US: