Linda Haigh, a.k.a. Hug-a-Bunch Annie, is Reno’s Retired and Senior Volunteer Program volunteer coordinator and the team leader for RSVP Clown- Arounds, as well as a participant in the ClownArounds performances. RSVP ClownArounds is a senior volunteer program made up of 18 volunteers, ages 55 and up. Each clown creates his or her personality for characters. Dressed in a red wig, white makeup and a Raggedy Ann-style outfit, Haigh can be heard singing, playing the piano and “just clowning around.” When she’s not performing, she is organizing future appearances, coordinating new clowns and searching out possible donations and additional funding.
Clowns are the universal sign for hope and happiness. We interact with all ages but concentrate on visiting children and seniors who are in the hospital and seniors in convalescent homes. Not only does this program bring happiness to our audience, it brings happiness to the volunteers and keeps them active both mentally and physically. It also helps to fight depression. One example is “Scooter,” who is 71 years old and rides a scooter in our performances.
What is the main challenge for this program?
When we began, we didn’t realize the costs for supplies. From the makeup and costumes to the stickers, candy, balloons and personal photos we give out, it all adds up. We’re always looking for possible donations of such items. Also, applying the makeup is a major challenge for us.
Applying the make-up?
Well, because we are seniors performing as clowns, we have to worry about wrinkles. It also takes about 1 1/2 hours to apply our makeup—it’s quite an art. I wouldn’t say I have fun putting it on, because of the time and intensity of it. As I said before, the biggest challenge is our wrinkles. As an older clown, when you put your white makeup on, you have to pull your skin and then worry about the wrinkles created.
What makes it worth it?
Each person who we make smile or laugh makes it worth it. One performance comes to mind. We were performing for a group of seniors with Alzheimer’s disease. Many of them didn’t talk or sat off by themselves. In our audience, there was one man who had been deeply affected by Alzheimer’s. When we started playing the waltz music, he rose out of his wheelchair and proceeded in the most gorgeous waltz I have ever seen. He danced with every one of us. It was incredibly moving, and that we were able to reach him was amazing. That’s who we are.
Where does the funding for RSVP ClownArounds come from?
We receive both federal and state funding and are sponsored by The Sanford Center for Aging at the University of Nevada, Reno, The Corporation for National Service and a grant from Dr. Leo S. Buscaglia’s Felice Foundation.