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Camp teaches laughter as a life skill

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ The children who participate in Oklahoma City's Camp Funnybone are from all walks of life. Some are recovering from physical ailments, while others may struggle with a lack of attention at home.

But, each one is learning to use a basic human expression as a coping mechanism for some of life's inevitable occurrences, said Lyn Hester, camp director and vice president for community services for Integris Hospital.

``Having a sense of humor doesn't always mean that you are a funny person,'' Hester said. ``Sometimes, it's about just rolling with the punches.''

Pink, orange and yellow animal-shaped balloons float in the air, while purple-haired clowns tell jokes and paint children's faces at Heritage Hall's upper school, the site of the event.

The goal of Camp Funnybone is to teach laughter at an early age, said Hester, who travels the country teaching ``the art of laughter'' to various organizations. Laughing is a skill most adults have forgotten how to tap in to, she said.

``We teach the kids that we can't always control what happens to us, but we can control how we react.''

Sara Alami, a 13-year-old camp participant, has gained a fresh perspective on peer pressure. Now a clown herself, the eighth-grader said she has learned that when she is teased by others, she can laugh at herself, too.

``As a clown, the highest compliment is to be laughed at,'' she said. ``I've learned that I have the right to laugh.''

Children laugh about 400 times a day, and adults about 15, Hester said.

``In the words of Bill Cosby: If we can laugh at it, we can live with it,'' she said.

It's amazing what a little laughter can do, said clown Rita Scranton, also known as Ms. April Fool. Scranton is deaf and has been working with the camp for two years.

``I can't hear the laughter, but I can see it,'' said Scranton, who reads lips. ``I love to see the children laugh. It is so healthy for all of us.''

Clown Jennifer Birdsong, who goes by Ms. Fool-ish, tells the children to ``spread a little sunshine and leave a little laughter wherever you go.'' Birdsong said being a camp clown helps her deal with her lupus and arthritis.

``A smile is a powerful thing, and it's so contagious,'' she said. ``It may be a challenge to smile sometimes, but that's why we can always paint them on.''
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