America Supports You: Group Packs Laughter in Care Packages
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 19, 2008 If laughter is the best medicine, deployed troops are getting huge doses when they open care packages full of red clown noses.
“The mission of The Red Nose Institute is to share the art of clowning, spread joy and laughter to our military, and perhaps boost their morale by the distribution of red foam noses,” said Cheryl Herrington, the institute’s president and a professional clown known as “Sweet Pea.”
Clowning is a sideline for Herrington, who works as a psychiatric nurse and knows the value of a simple smile. She grew up as an Air Force “brat” and lost a brother in Vietnam.
“We mean no disrespect whatsoever to our military. Our only intent is to help improve their mental health by giving them something to smile about,” she said. “And you have to admit, a red clown nose is pretty unexpected!”
If the photos on the Missouri-based institute’s Web site are any indication, the noses are accomplishing their goal. In fact, families and friends who request the noses on behalf of servicemembers seem to have as much fun sending them as the servicemembers do receiving them, Herrington said.
Since the program began in July, Herrington and “Pappy,” her partner in laughter and in this endeavor, have sent 10,000 red foam noses to troops. Recently, 525 of those went to a Coast Guard unit at the request of its commanding officer. He wanted to give the unit’s members something to laugh about -- their deployment to patrol frigid waters during the holidays certainly wasn’t doing that, according to the group’s Web site.
Sweet Pea and Pappy -- a former Marine and also a professional clown -- can fill requests as small as 25 noses for an individual and up to 1,000 or more. There’s no charge to the requestor or the recipients.
Though the duo’s main intent is to brighten the troops’ days, their secondary goal is no laughing matter.
“It is our hope that some noses will be given to children in communities where the troops are stationed,” Herrington said. “We believe that by sharing the art of clowning, our servicemembers will have an opportunity to interact with the children and … perhaps gain more understanding and awareness of them.”
The flip side of that is that perhaps the children will begin to trust the servicemembers, Herrington said.
A new supporter of the Defense Department’s America Supports You program, The Red Nose Institute is looking forward to the networking opportunities and exposure the affiliation will bring.
Herrington said the credibility of being associated with the Defense Department’s program perhaps will be the greatest benefit, however.
“We are well aware that this project is not for everyone,” she said. “Some folks see it as demeaning and totally miss the focus of The Red Nose Institute, which is only to put smiles on the face of our troops!”
The America Supports You program connects citizens and companies with servicemembers and their families serving at home and abroad.