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Hattiesburg kindergarten picks joke for book

Posted September 2

— Five-year-old Claire Clemmons is quick with a joke and a smile.

The lively Hattiesburg kindergartner thought up one particular joke when she was 3, and now she is sharing that joke with other children across the country.

Claire's joke was chosen to be included in a joke book created for children by children through the UnitedHealthcare Community Foundation.

"This is the best day ever," she said when she learned her joke was selected for the book.

The joke recently was published in "Cool Jokes for Summer" from the Little Book Big Laughs series geared toward children ages 4-12.

The book, available on Amazon, is one of three compiled by the UnitedHealthcare Children's Foundation. The other two books, "Sweets, Treats and Eats" and "Holidays, Celebrations and Birthday Jokes," also are available on Amazon.

The trio of joke books include more than 300 jokes and were released just ahead of National Literacy Month, which is in September.

"I felt kind of happy and kind of excited," she said, when she learned her joke would be published. "Then I felt a little nervous.

"I was nervous because I thought there was going to be four or five people that I have to tell my joke in front of."

But Claire wasn't nervous at all when she told her joke to staff at the Hattiesburg American.

"Why don't bears wear shoes?" she asked.

"Because they're 'bear'-footed," she said.

The joke came about when Claire and her family were on a boat near Heber Springs, Arkansas. She and another young child were telling jokes to each other when she came up with hers on her own, her mother, Meredith, said.

Two years later, Meredith submitted the joke through her employer, UnitedHealthcare, to be included in one of the UHC Children's Foundation joke books.

Joe Ochpinti, a UHCCF representative, said proceeds from the sale of the UHCCF books and gift items are used solely to fund medical grants for children.

"And funds raised in Mississippi stay in Mississippi," he said.

The children's foundation's focus is to provide medical grants that help children gain access to health care who are not covered or not fully covered.

Ochpinti said qualifying families can receive up to $5,000 annually with a $10,000 lifetime maximum.

Families don't need to have UnitedHealtcare to qualify.

Some of the requirements for a child to qualify is the child must be 16 years old or younger; must meet certain economic guidelines; live in the United States; and have a health care insurance plan.

He said any family with children who have medical needs should apply, even if they don't think they will qualify.

"We are always seeking grant applications," Ochpinti said.

Around 14,000 children across the country have been helped through the foundation since 2007, but UHCCF has been helping children since 1999. The grants total more than $37 million.

The grants help pay for such medical services and equipment as physical, occupational and speech therapy, counseling services, surgeries, prescriptions, wheelchairs, orthotics, eyeglasses and hearing aids.

"Our driving mission is to help families in need of access to medical care to improve their health," Ochpinti said. "We've helped thousands of children in need. Our goal is to help thousands more."

In addition to book and gift sales, money for the grants is raised through voluntary UHC employee contributions.

"They are helping the community when they have a need and raising awareness (of children's health)," Ochpinti said.

Claire may not be aware of the impact her joke might have on others, but she is happy to share it. And on any given day, she's just like any other 5-year-old.

She learning math and other subjects at Sacred Heart School.

When not cracking jokes, Claire likes to play games on the computer and go to birthday parties. She also likes go to the playground and have play dates with her friends. Her favorite movie is "Despicable Me III," she said, "but I've already seen it." Her favorite book is "Pete the Cat and the Bedtime Blues" by James and Kimberly Dean.

In addition to her parents, John and Meredith Clemmons, she has an older brother, Bennett, who is 15, and a poodle, Sylvia, who is 7.

Claire likes to dress up Sylvia and put her in a stroller like she is a baby, Meredith said.

"Sylvia is so patient with her," Meredith said.

Claire enjoys gymnastics and dance lessons. She studies tap, jazz and ballet. She also enjoys swimming.

"Every day she likes to go to the pool," Meredith said.

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