Entertainers join Elmo to help military families find 'new normal'
By Samantha L. Quigley, American Forces Press Service
/ Published February 03, 2009
WASHINGTON -- Sesame Workshop will air a PBS special Apr. 1 aimed at helping military families cope with changes.
Actor/singer Queen Latifah and singer John Mayer will join Elmo to present, "Coming Home: Military Families Cope with Change." The special carries a message for children whose parents suffered a physical or psychological wound in combat.
"Rosita's father is in a wheelchair and (she) talks to Elmo about her feelings," Barbara Thompson, director of the Defense Department's Office of Family Policy/Children and Youth, said. "Elmo very graciously says, 'You need to talk to your dad about that.'"
Rosita does talk with her dad and learns that even though they can't do all the things they used to, they can do other things.
"It gives this sense of relief that I can talk about the change. That my dad is still my dad (and) my parent is still my parent," Ms. Thompson said. "It's very powerful for ... parents to see ... what it's like from a child's perspective, what they're feeling and experiencing."
Having celebrities participate also adds value, beyond the "cool" factor, Ms. Thompson said.
"I think it ... draws a larger (portion) of the population to the issues that military families (face)," she said. "It shows, I think, people's interest."
The half-hour special, which will air at the beginning of the "Month of the Military Child," is a part of Sesame Workshop's "Talk, Listen, Connect" initiative, which began two years ago.
The first phase of the TLC program addressed the issues of multiple deployments and their impact on young children. It included the half-hour TV special, "When Parents Are Deployed," hosted by Cuba Gooding Jr.
The second phase, which includes the upcoming TV special, addresses the issues of changes, both physical and psychological, and the impact those changes can have on a family. It does this, in part, by telling the stories of servicemembers with challenges like post-traumatic stress disorder, and the struggles these families face in finding the "new normal," Ms. Thompson said.
To help parents communicate better with their children on these topics, the Sesame Workshop has created an informative kit in both English and Spanish. Defense Department employees served as subject matter experts for the Sesame Workshop kit, which contains two DVDs and printed materials.
"Of course (the Sesame Workshop is) the creative force behind it," Ms. Thompson said. "They know how to craft those messages so that children really benefit from the comfort of the Sesame characters."
More than 1.3 million kits are being distributed through Military OneSource, an online resource available to families 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The materials also are available through various military organizations. The Sesame Workshop Web site also offers a variety of resources, including printed material, and videos and music to help military families communicate about issues affecting them.
"The range of media tools available through 'Talk, Listen, Connect' truly provides fundamental ways for each family member to support each other through all stages," Gary E. Knell, president and chief executive officer of Sesame Workshop, said. "The deep impact of this project continues to inspire us, which is why we are excited to create (this) new special that will further champion the needs of the military community and will help these families ... find ways to be there for each other."
Sesame Workshop produced the special in association with Lookalike Productions and David Letterman's production company, Worldwide Pants Incorporated.
"The men and women of our military have made indescribable sacrifices," Mr. Letterman said. "The very least we can do is tell their stories, and to honor the bravery and strength of both the soldiers and their families."
The special is scheduled to air Apr.1 at 8 p.m. EST.