‘Sesame Street’ helps military children with parents’ deployments

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Bert and Ernie, Big Bird and the Count have spent years teaching children right from wrong and how to count, but now some of their fellow “Sesame Street” neighbors will take on a new task: counseling military families.

Five “Sesame Street” characters are touring across the nation to entertain and offer advice to children with deployed parents as part of the Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families.

The tour, open only to military families, is scheduled to visit 40 military bases in the United States, giving one or two shows a day. It previously has performed in military bases overseas as well.

As of its performances last weekend at the Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida, the Sesame Street program had served more than 152,000 families since its launch in 2008.

The show “gives a moment of respite and joy to these families,” said Sloan Gibson, president and chief executive of USO. “And weeks after it comes through, there’s still buzz about it.”

The show, featuring the “Sesame Street” Muppets Elmo, Zoe, the Cookie Monster, Grover and Rosita, is geared toward 3- to 5-year-old children, but even the parents appreciate the message the “Sesame Street” characters put across.

“The families usually get to see what the soldier is going through abroad,” said Monty Campbell of the Fort Hood, Texas, public affairs office for the Army, who added that he has had nothing but good responses to the show.

“The message has been helpful; [my kids] came up talking about their feelings,” said Luelisse Torres-Rodriguez, a mother of two whose husband is a major in the Army, often deployed for one to six months at a time. Her family went to the 25-minute show twice at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., which “made [the children’s] day,” she said.

“And it let me become a kid, too,” Mrs. Torres-Rodriguez added.

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, presented some of the tour’s materials to the Pentagon in April, and first lady Michelle Obama commended the program at the National Military Families Association Summit in May.

Gary Knell, president and chief executive of Sesame Workshop, said this project grew out of an article he read about a military family losing their house because of missed mortgage payments while the husband was deployed.

“I was enraged by it, and then I realized that while we talk about supporting our troops, no one is working with the families,” he said.

Then Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit group behind “Sesame Street,” and USO, a nonprofit organization that provides entertainment to deployed soldiers, combined to start the Sesame Street tour, which is the second-largest tour in the nation after the circus, Mr. Knell said.

During the performance, according to Mr. Gibson, Elmo will turn to the audience of parents and children from 1 to 10 years old and ask, “Do you miss Daddy when he’s away?”

As most kids quietly nod or murmur yes, Elmo will empathize with them, saying that his father is also deployed, Mr. Gibson said.

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About the Author
Michelle Phillips

Michelle Phillips

Michelle Phillips is a student intern with the Washington Times through the National Journalism Center covering international affairs.

After growing up overseas, Ms. Phillips returned to the U.S. to attend Rice University for her bachelor’s degree, and is entering her junior year there. She discovered her love of journalism in college while working for the school newspaper, the Rice Thresher, ...

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