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State Honoree

Russell Hixenbaugh

West Virginia

Russell Hixenbaugh, 14, of Fairmont, W.Va., an eighth-grader at Barrackville Middle School in Barrackville, dresses up as “Happy Heart the Clown” to perform and bring cheer to people in hospitals, nursing homes, and shelters. Russell also collects, assembles, and distributes stuffed animals and “love baskets” filled with personal items and small gifts. After spending time in the hospital recovering from several surgeries, Russell decided to use his sense of humor and fun to bring cheer to others. “I know how it brightens someone’s day to have a visitor,” he said. With the help of his mother and 4-H leader, Russell designed and made a clown costume. He learned how to make balloon animals and took classes in sign language, then solicited donations of stuffed animals and small personal items to fill patient ‘love baskets.’ Fellow 4-H members often accompany Russell on his visits, learning not to fear hospitals as they bring cheer and companionship to sick and disabled people. “Everyone needs to get involved with community service,” Russell said. “It helps you open your life and helps to better the quality of life for others.”