EAST PRAIRIE - Clowns. Most people either love them, or they hate them. For years now, clowns have been invading Mississippi County, and it would be safe to say that the residents of Mississippi County love their clowns.
Last October, the Mississippi County Retired and Senior Volunteer Program spent Make A Difference Day visiting a total of 165 residents at Prairie Grove Senior Housing Complex, Charleston Manor Skilled Nursing Facility and East Prairie Nursing Center. Their efforts earned them national recognition in an upcoming USA WEEKEND Magazine, published as part of the Standard Democrat each Sunday.
"Everybody loves the clowns," Brenda Brewer, Mississippi County RSVP director, said. "I don't care where we go - we always get a smile."
Four days before Halloween, in a reverse trick-or-treat manner, Brewer and 14 other volunteers delivered candy bars to some of the residents. Throughout the course of the day in the nursing centers, the clowns visited with the residents, wrote cards and letters for those who needed help and potted flowers, among other things. The clowns also passed out balloons to residents of the Charleston nursing center, as well as assisting in a big game of BINGO.
After volunteering as a clown for many years, 81-year-old Ida Krauss can't help but have fond memories of her visits. Krauss definitely has many to share.
"I remember two little ladies," she recalled. "Both of them had strokes so they couldn't talk, but they could smile. I hugged them both and told them I loved them. They just smiled. One of the women's daughters came up to me later and told me thanks. It really made me feel good."
The Mississippi County RSVP has been volunteering as clowns long before the Make A Difference Day was created by USA WEEKEND Magazine 11 years ago. In fact, they've been volunteering as clowns for so long that no one can recall exactly how long the clowns have existed. Krauss said she knows the clowns have been around since the 1980s, but can't trace when or how it all began.
Since the clowns began, they've visited many places, and their generosity doesn't end at nursing homes. In fact, one volunteer, Alfreda Miller, 75, said she won't go to the nursing homes ("When your 75 years old, you don't visit nursing homes!" she said with a laugh.) Instead, Miller can be found participating in road blocks or visiting schools, which is what she loves to do the most.
"I just love people," Miller said. "And I really enjoy the RSVP clowns. They do a lot of good things. They'll go anywhere they can to do anything."
Kids in kindergarten through fourth grade, really love the clowns, Miller said. Overall, she thinks the clowns receive good cooperation from East Prairie.
"It's important to the town that we have the elderly taking care of the elderly and the younger people," Miller said. "We're helping one another, not only as clowns, but as neighbors, too. It's neighbors helping neighbors."
Both Krauss and Miller love the effects of volunteering and the happiness it brings to everyone involved, but unfortunately, neither can participate as much as they'd like to anymore, they said.
When discussing the fact that Miller can't do the same things she could do 20 years ago, she responded in a true volunteer fashion.
"It gets so aggravating," she said with a sigh. "But, I do what I can."
And after all, isn't that all anyone can do?