Best Janitorial Supply in Westport is serious about business, but when it comes to sick children, the owners are always clowning around.
Charles Levine, who owns the 15-person company with his two brothers, started Clown Corps, a group of volunteer jesters who visit and entertain children in area hospitals, about 18 months ago.
Mr. Levine, 31, said he got the idea when he became sick with what doctors think might be a slight case of multiple sclerosis.
Frequently a patient in hospitals himself, Mr. Levine said he wanted the children who also were hospitalized to smile.
"I started goofing off to take their minds off of their illness," said Mr. Levine, who is quite animated even without a clown costume.
"It just snowballed from there," he said.
Mr. Levine and his troop of 15 clowns, which includes some Best Janitorial Supply employees, are called on frequently to visit hospitals with puppets, magic tricks, balloons and gifts, which are paid for through the company's operating budget.
The company was among nine firms and organizations to receive the Mayor's Business Recognition Award Thursday. The awards were presented by the Greater Baltimore Committee for civic leadership.
Mr. Levine said the high point of the clown shows is Alley, a dog he found in an alley two years ago. Part Labrador and part Great Dane, Alley can jump through hoops and play dead and has been given special clearance to visit some area hospitals.
Mr. Levine said one of his most rewarding clown experiences was atthe Special Olympics held by Baltimore and the state each spring.
"You're making so many handicapped and underprivileged children smile. It's unbelievable," Mr. Levine said.
"I've never been hugged so much in one day."
The Clown Corps is scheduled to appear tomorrow in Pasadena at a Grant-A-Wish picnic.
As for his own illness, Mr. Levine said that although he sometimes becomes very tired, being involved in the community makes him feel better.
"I think I'm going to beat this thing. I'm a fighter," he said.