Nova Scotia

Buddington the Clown leaves big shoes to fill at IWK

After 13 years, Cleve Sauer is leaving his position as the IWK's therapeutic clown, where he lifted the spirits of thousands of sick children. 'Whoever takes this job is going to be so lucky,' he says.

'Whoever takes this job is going to be so lucky,' says Cleve Sauer, outgoing therapeutic clown

Buddington the Clown has been the IWK's resident therapeutic clown for 13 years. (Rebecca Chapman)

Job seekers perusing the ads for social work have been stumbling upon a post from the IWK seeking a very special set of skills. The ad says applicants require a bachelor's degree, knowledge of child development, non-violent crisis intervention… and magic.

The Halifax hospital is looking to replace its therapeutic clown.

Buddington the Clown, whose real name is Cleve Sauer, has acted as a friend and confidante to thousands of sick children during his 13 years at the IWK. He offers them a chance to talk about their situation as they understand it, on their terms, and most importantly, an opportunity to play.

"The only person that's more out of place in a hospital than a child, is a clown," Sauer told CBC's Information Morning. "That's this beautiful opportunity for this momentary escape from what can be a very stressful experience for children and families."

He said the job was born out of a mandate by Therapeutic Clowns Canada to get clowns into every pediatric centre in the country.

Sauer was a clown for about a decade before he got his undergraduate degrees in psychology and social work. It was around that time that the IWK posted an ad seeking its first "therapeutic clown."

'This is just too perfect'

"That posting came up 13 years ago, and I said, 'This is just too perfect,'" he said.

Ever since, Buddington has been part of the child life team at the hospital. His colleagues refer patients for him to visit, but his duties extend far beyond the kids on his list.

"I'll do those room visits, but there's also visits that happen all the way along the way. They can be in hallways, elevators, common areas," he said. "Sometimes, I'll meet a kid and they'll be like, 'I'm going down to the blood lab. Will you come with me now, Buddington?' and I'm like, 'All right. Let's go!'"

Sauer said a major part of the job is constantly adapting to every child's situation and needs.

He said in a hospital setting where most things are beyond a child's control, the clown offers some semblance of autonomy. Every interaction is controlled entirely by the child, starting with a request from the clown to enter their room.

"If the child says, 'No, go away,' it's cool. It's great. As a matter of fact, that's ideal. It means that they've actually been able to exercise some of that power," he said.

Not your typical clown

Sauer stressed that it's not a performance job.

"You're there to support, you're there to be amazed by, and to be in wonder of the kid that's right in front of you," he said.

When he's not Buddington, Sauer runs his own private practice as a social worker. He's hanging up his clown shoes to focus full time on his practice, but he's looking forward to seeing who will follow in his footsteps.

"Families are having the most difficult circumstances, and they allow me in to sing a song when their child is not doing well... and then these opportunities where I'm there for celebration," he said.

"It's this roller coaster that families go through, and they actually allow the clown to come along. Whoever takes this job is going to be so lucky," he said.

The job post closes on Aug. 22.

With files from CBC's Information Morning

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