'Sesame Street' Teams with USO to Help Military Kids, Families

Parents in the U.S. military are often on the move, leaving their children to worry about losing old friendships and making new ones. So Sesame Street teamed up with the USO to help those kids deal with that swirl of emotions in healthy, helpful ways.

The result--a military-themed tour which lets some of Sesame Street's famous characters help children cope with the changes in their lives.

Breitbart News checked in with Lynn Chwatsky, Vice President Initiatives and Partnerships, Community Engagement with Sesame Street, to learn more about the program.

Breitbart News: Talk about the modifications made to the Sesame Street format in telling a story specifically for military families--did you have previous tours as a template, or was this an all-new endeavor?

Lynn Chwatsky: Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit organization behind Sesame Street, has had a relationship with the Vee Corporation for years, with live shows that tour the United States. The shows offer entertainment but are always designed with specific educational goals and messages for children and families. Sesame took this successful concept and thought it would be a wonderful idea to partner with the USO--a trusted organization known for its rich history in supporting troops and their families--and lifting their spirits with entertainment tours that travel around the world year round.

Together, Sesame Street and the USO created an exclusive, free performance tour for military families that could travel the globe to military bases. They also worked hard to create a unique show that is tailored specifically to the needs of military families and addressing one of the biggest challenges military kids face, which is moving and leaving old friends and making new ones.

Breitbart News: Does Sesame Street consult with existing social programs or psychological experts when crafting stories for productions like this? Is it challenging to marry the two--storytelling and life lessons?

Lynn Chwatsky: Sesame Street always consults with leading experts in the subject matter it's addressing (whether music, or math or in this case supporting military families. These advisers help shape the goals for the program and offer guidance through the process including reviewing scripts to ensure messages are on target, age appropriate and have the right tone.

It's the powerful combination of experts guiding the content and experienced writers who take this guidance and allow Muppets to deliver the messages that are true to the Sesame Street brand, yet also deliver in a meaningful way that resonates with children and families. 

Breitbart News: Is there a part of the show where children in the audience can express some of their feelings? Or is that something the show encourages for families once the curtain closes and the applause begins?

Lynn Chwatsky: The Sesame Street/USO tour is very interactive and includes a new character Katie, a military child whose experiences really echo those of the children she performs for. There are also multiple times when the characters ask the audience to respond or react, including asking children to identify how they are feeling. The goal is that the Muppets and the show will begin a dialogue for a child and family which will continue beyond the show.

We also provide a wealth of resources to audience members before and after the show, items they can take home and help continue that dialogue.

Breitbart News: Are there elements of this tour which may be used in future Sesame Street episodes or tours not specifically designed for military families?

Lynn Chwatsky: As the script for this show was specifically created for the tour, the content will be exclusively for this effort.

Breitbart News: Sesame Street is a beloved institution ... from your perspective, what sets it apart from other children's entertainment?

Lynn Chwatsky: Several things--great partnerships, like the USO. This tour wouldn't be the success it is today without our friends from the USO. The USO knows the military, and Sesame Street knows children, so it's the perfect combination.

Our process works. It's a rigorous process that involves constant feedback and tweaking. Feedback from internal team members ... feedback from external advisers ... and most importantly feedback from families who will ultimately be the intended beneficiaries of this work. It's this process of continually refining until it's "right" that makes our work so impactful.

These furry, friendly, fuzzy Muppets are amazing. They are loved by children--and adults--and are these powerful characters that model behaviors and actions for kids. They also have the power of engaging children and adults around challenging topics and conversations that might even be hard for humans.

Note: Below are responses from two audience members who took in the current Sesame Street/USO tour:

We love it because the show is something that our kids can relate to. Our kids love ‘Sesame Street’ and the fact that ‘Sesame Street’ partnered with the USO is something that is close to us,” said mother Cindy Ballagh. “We dealt with deployments so often. It is a huge part of every military Family’s life. The show makes it more special for everybody.” Fort Campbell Courier, Fort Campbell, TN, April 19, 2012

I also love it when the kiddos are screaming wanting Elmo to touch their hand, of course that would be the same way I would act at a Justin Timberlake concert. It was really great and worth the 2 hour wait to get to take the kiddos to this. It was a show with a message about issues that military kids go through every day from PCS’ing to deployment. Those are def tough subjects on parents to discuss with the kiddos. Elmo def does it better than me and Eric!” JB Lewis McChord, Mommy Blogger, August 3, 2012


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