November 9, 2011
By Chelsea Place, Pentagram
ARLINGTON, Va. (Army News Service, Nov. 9, 2011) -- In an effort to relieve confusion and anxiety that children feel during their parent's deployments, the non-profit organization behind television's "Sesame Street" has created a new digital initiative.
The initiative's website, familiesnearandfar.org, premiered to 300 military family members Nov. 5 on Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall. At the event, families enjoyed an hour-long show with special guest speakers from military installations and the Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit organization also behind the television show "The Electric Company."
The Sesame Workshop initiative will be distributed through various military channels, including the Department of Defense Education Activity. It will also be available as an application for certain phones and digital devices.
"It's for military families, for them to stay connected," said Sesame Street fairy Abby Cadabby at the premiere. "They can share how they are feeling, talk to each other, post pictures and do artwork," she said.
As president and CEO of Sesame Street Workshop, H. Melvin Ming explained how the effort came about after he found out 800,000 school-aged military kids were affected by parents being deployed.
"We learned more about [deployment], we learned about what it might do to a child to not be able to connect with their parent for a long time," he said. "Explain to a 2-year-old that I'm going away for a year. How would a 2-year-old get that? Well Elmo has a way of helping a child connect with this dimension of time, this dimension of separation."
"[T]he strength of our service men and women come from the strength of their families, and the strength of their families comes from the support of community organizations," said Myer-Henderson Hall Commander Col. Carl R. Coffman, about the shows helping out military families.
Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury Director Navy Capt. Paul S. Hammer and Office of the Secretary of Defense's Principal Director of Military Community and Family Policy Charles Milam also spoke at the event, discussing what the initiative was and what it will mean for military families.
To end the show, the characters Abby Cadabby and Gordon from "Sesame Street" did an abbreviated show for young children in the audience about expressing feelings, followed by the characters Jessica and Shock from "The Electric Company" performing for the older children in the audience.
At one point in the show, Abby Cadabby, providing an example of being separated from a parent, said she missed her mommy because mom had to go on an important fairy godmother mission and couldn't take Abby with her.
"Just because your mommy is far away doesn't mean you can't talk to her and tell her how you feel. It is always important to talk and share how you feel whether you are feeling happy or sad," said Gordon sympathetically.
The initiative is all about, "connect, create and communicate." The website allows families to connect online via writings, pictures, drawings, music, creating music and sharing files with family members far away.
"We get to meet a lot of military families and kids and … we talk with them and help them express how they feel through the power of words," said Jessica.
After the hour-long show ended, parents and children spread out across Conmy Hall to experience various stations, including a web demo, coloring and crafts, snacks, "The Electric Company" application station and two meet-and-greet areas for children who wanted to hug Elmo and Grover. Children decorated a cloth bag, keepsake box and hand puppet at the event.
"As somebody who has just come back, it's great to see the support for the family… It's good to see that as we are [deployed], they are getting this kind of support here," said Marine Corps Maj. Randy Stone from Quantico.
Stone attended the event with his wife Brenda and two children, Juliette, 2, and Daniel, 3. The family said they had a fun time. In fact Daniel was so excited he ran through the doors into Conmy Hall, said his mom.
"If you have access to the Internet and are able to log on and see what they are doing… It's a wonderful tool. I wish they had it when I was just over there," said Stone.
(Chelsea Place writes for the Pentagram newspaper at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall.)