Our World: Bringing smiles to all, especially those most in need of a laugh

Sarasota Circus clown Chuck Sidlow, center, cuts it up with Sunrise Community of Collier County client Leslie Grant at the day program's facilities on Wednesday, March, 10, 2010, in East Naples. Laughter Unlimited is a 'human service program' that sends clowns to area hospitals, special needs programs and senior care facilities while the circus is in town. Photo by David Albers

Photo by DAVID ALBERS

Sarasota Circus clown Chuck Sidlow, center, cuts it up with Sunrise Community of Collier County client Leslie Grant at the day program's facilities on Wednesday, March, 10, 2010, in East Naples. Laughter Unlimited is a "human service program" that sends clowns to area hospitals, special needs programs and senior care facilities while the circus is in town. Photo by David Albers

You really don’t have much of a choice when a good clown is in the room. Being bombarded with a certain quality of ridiculousness, you can’t help but feel better.

Literally.

Laughter Unlimited is a crew of entertainers from the Sarasota Circus who are purveyors of clowning. “Humor Therapy” is what they sell with the purpose of improving the health and well-being of those who need it most.

On Wednesday, a husband and wife duo from the troupe, Chuck and Noriko Sidlow, made a stop at the Sunrise Community of Collier County. The day program for adults with developmental disabilities has been on their list of places to visit the last four years when their circus is in town.

Chuck Sidlow is the clown and Noriko Sidlow accompanies his zany antics on a keyboard.

Between sight gags and sing-alongs, Chuck Sidlow makes his transformation to a clown piece-by-piece over the course of an hour bringing any willing participants along for the ride.

Laughter swells at the prefabricated Sunrise Community building in an industrial park in East Naples.

“We concentrate on the healthy part, not the sick part,” said Chuck Sidlow.

The Laughter Unlimited program circulates among senior care facilities and hospitals where a good dose of laughter is needed most.

“Sometimes the box is a little damaged on the outside but the inside is pure gold,” said Chuck Sidlow.

A portion of the ticket sales and concessions from the circus pay for the program, which then is free for the recipients. The patients and clients are not the only target audience, as family and staff members are given a chance to take a break and laugh out loud with the show.

“We try to fill a void between the busy family members and the busy health-care providers,” Chuck Sidlow said.

Like most health-care providers, fresh state budget cuts have been looming in the minds of the Sunrise Community staff. Any Medicaid cuts will most likely affect nine out of 10 of the developmentally-disabled clients of the Sunrise Community, according to program director Paul Starzyk.

For at least an hour last week, the Laughter Unlimited show gave everyone at Sunrise a much-needed laugh, including client Leslie Grant, pictured above in a blue jacket with Chuck Sidlow.

The Sarasota Circus is at the Gulf Coast Town Center through March 28 as the Laughter Unlimited crew circulates around Collier and Lee counties.

After the conclusion of the show at Sunrise Community, Chuck and Noriko Sidlow pack up their props and gags and say their goodbyes.

As the pair heads back to the circus, Frank Fleites, 35, circulates from person to person at the Sunrise Community, singing the refrain of the song “It’s A Small World (After All).”

A trail of smiles follows him around the building.

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E-mail David Albers at dnalbers@naplesnews.com or follow him at twitter.com/NDN_DAlbers

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