Thursday, May 23rd, 2013
Sesame Street and the USO have now partnered for five years to support military families around the world. As they celebrate this milestone, Rachel Tischler (Vice President of USO Entertainment) and Lynn Chwatsky (Vice President of Sesame Street’s Outreach Initiatives and Partners) offer this guest blog post to announce the new world tour of The Sesame Street/US Experience for Military Families.
The children of US service members scream and wave at the start of the USO/Sesame Street Experience for Military Families at USAG Humphreys in South Korea February 9, 2010. (USO Photo by Fred Greaves)
Imagine you are five years old and you haven’t seen your mommy or daddy’s face, touched their hand or received their hug in six months because they’re deployed overseas. Now, imagine two years have passed and your mommy or daddy is back home, you have lots of friends at school, and you’re told the family is moving to a new base far away for the third time. How do you feel? And as a parent, what do you do?
These are just two of the many unique and challenging issues our nation’s military families face everyday. It’s also THE reason Sesame Street and the USO partnered and are celebrating five years of working together to take The Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families around the world. Over the past five years our two organizations have brought the messages from Sesame Street’s military families initiative, Talk, Listen, Connect, to life for more than 368,000 U.S. troops and military families. We’ve performed 631 shows on 145 military installations in 33 states and 11 countries.
We are kicking off our new world tour at a special USO Care Package Service Project event with help from Cookie Monster and our supporters on Capitol Hill. Next, we’ll head to Alaska to begin performing for and meeting even more military families this year as our journey takes us to 41 bases in 8 European and Pacific countries over the next six months.
For those unfamiliar with our adventure, the tour’s first phase focused on deployment. Kids and parents related when Elmo said, “Elmo’s Daddy had to go away on a very important trip for lots and lots of days. Elmo sure misses Daddy when he’s away, and sometimes Elmo feels sad.” Elmo and friends got those same families singing, dancing, and there was even the occasional Muppet mosh pit.
As the military transitioned away from long deployments, The USO and Sesame Street created a brand new show tailored towards another challenge, military family relocation. The new show introduced a new character named Katie. Katie is a military kid, and her experiences really echo those faced by military kids. The show is designed to help other military kids like Katie with issues related to relocation – letting kids know they can stay in touch with old friends and even make new ones when they move.
Kids perk up in surprise as Katie identifies with them, telling audience members, “I’m moving AGAIN.” And it’s thanks to Katie and her Sesame Street pals Elmo, Rosita, and Cookie Monster, who help her realize that while moving can be scary, she can still rely on her friends to help her through life’s transitions.
The USO and Sesame Street know that families everywhere can relate to the anxiety of moving to a new place, and having to go to a new school and make new friends. But for military families around the world, it’s a way of life. According to our friends at the Military Child Education Coalition, kids with parents in the military move six to nine times during their pre-school through high school education.
That’s why it’s important our military families know that Sesame Street and the USO are there. We know it’s hard to be away from a loved one and that some days are harder than others. Whether you’re a child, a military spouse, a service member or a nonmilitary member, nothing can change the fact our troops and their families are serving this country every day. And in the words of Elmo and his pals, “We’re gonna be there for [them].”
As we celebrate the fifth birthday of The Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families, we ask that you join in the celebration by offering your own support of military families. We’ve come up with five things that everyone can do and we hope they will prompt and inspire you:
1. Volunteer at one of the more than 160 USO locations around the world and discover ways you can take action locally.
2. Offer to help a military family on the home front who live on or off base. Whether you see that their lawn needs to be mowed or garbage cans taken in, helping with simple household chores and errands can really relieve some of the stress a family may be feeling.
3. Teach your child how they can help support military kids in their school by visiting uso.org/get-involved.aspx and or Facebook.com/SesameStreetforMilitaryFamilies.
4. Lend an ear to listen to a military spouse as sometimes just having someone there to vent to or talk to when you may feel all alone can be the greatest support of all.
5. Say thank you to a military member and their family for their service, sacrifice and strength. Our troops and their families make sacrifices so we don’t have to and those two simple words say so much.
Whether on the frontlines, with their loved ones, in recovery or in remembrance, the USO and Sesame Street are adapting to meet the needs of those who need us most. The Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families is one of the ways we can help them navigate life’s challenges. To learn more and to see where the tour is headed next visit USO.org/Sesame.
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Sesame Street characters pose for a photo with service members and their children following a performance of the USO/Sesame Street Experience for Military Families at Atsugi Naval Air Field in Japan, January 19, 2010. (USO Photo by Fred Greaves)
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Monday, May 28th, 2012
It’s been awhile since I checked out what the USO is doing to support military families – and as they always have a number of programs going on, I thought it would be good to provide an update. Whether you belong to a military family, or just want to support our military and their loved ones, please keep in mind these current initiatives that were shared with me by a representative of the USO:
OPERATION PHONE HOME®: Staying connected with family is one of our troops most requested services. At our centers located in combat zones, the USO provides a private phone network for troops to make free phone calls home, access to computers with free high speed internet bandwidth to connect, online, with family back home, as well as free wireless Internet access for troops with their own computers. For those forward deployed troops who are serving in remote areas without access to our centers, the USO provides free international pre-paid calling cards. And many USO centers stateside also provide free internet and phones to connect with home no matter how far away.
UNITED THROUGH READING’S MILITARY PROGRAM: In 2006, the USO partnered with United Through Reading® to host its’ program at select USO centers worldwide. Troops can visit a participating USO center to read a story aloud to their children. This is then recorded on camera, and the USO mails the DVD and book home for the child. Families then send back a photo of the child watching their DVD. In 2011, 60,000 recordings were sent to military families across the world.
MILITARY FAMILY CARE PACKAGE: Sending a care package home is the focus of this program that helps families stay connected. Troops headed overseas write a note which is placed in a special journal which is packed in a “care package” with other useful items like prepaid calling cards, disposable cameras, and gift certificates for groceries and tutoring services. The package arrives home several weeks after the service member deploys, reminding the family that their loved ones are thinking of them.
USO PHOTO BOOK PROGRAM: Through a partnership with RocketLife, LLC, the USO Photo Book program gives loved ones a chance to connect with family and friends deployed overseas by creating and sending a free personal soft-cover photo album sized perfectly to fit in a uniform cargo pocket. USO Photo Book supports and comforts our service men and women by helping them stay connected with their families and supporters back home.
USO WARRIOR AND FAMILY CARE: USO supports wounded, ill and injured troops, their families and caregivers through multiple programs and partnerships with best-in-class organizations that help families reconnect as they continue their recovery journey. Families can participate in USO programs including Caregivers Conferences to USO/National Military Family Association Healing Adventures Camps and USO/Stronger Families, and Oxygen Seminars. Two new USO Warrior and Family Centers will create an environment to reunite families in the face of change. USO Warrior and Family Care includes support and programs for families of the fallen, such as USO’s partnership with TAPS to provide Good Grief Camps for children and families.
USO WISHBOOK: USO Wishbook is an alternative giving catalog that allows customers to tailor their contributions by interest, recipient or by price. The amounts range from $25 and under to $500 and over. Gifts for kids this month include: A Phone Call Home ($25), Growing Up Brave Deployment Kits ($25), Family Fun Day ($50) and Bedtime Stories ($50).
These are all terrific ways that the USO shows support for our military and their families. To learn more, visit the USO website.
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Tuesday, September 20th, 2011
In my last post, I wrote about how Sesame Street is helping kids deal with parental deployment. But there’s more. Since 2008, Sesame Workshop and the USO have collaborated to bring a free, traveling tour based on Sesame’s Talk, Listen, Connect Initiative to more than 234,000 military families in the US and overseas. To learn more about this unique partnership, I had the privilege of speaking with Mr. Sloan Gibson, who is the President of the USO.
In this warm and engaging conversation, it quickly became clear that Mr. Gibson has a passion for military families and their children. He shared a number of insights to me that are relevant for military families as well as all of us who wish to support them. He informed me that the tour’s overarching themes and messages include:
- Offering a thank you to military families from the American people
- Recognizing the sacrifices that military personnel and their families make
- Doing something nice and fun for children in military families
- Letting military families know that they are not alone in dealing with issues surrounding deployment
As Mr. Gibson pointed out, the USO is constantly adapting to meet the needs of today’s military personnel – and partnered with Sesame Workshop to develop and launch a tour addressing the growing concerns of the vast number of children who are affected by having a deployed parent (many of whom endure repeated deployments). Over the past 3 years the tour has provided an engaging and fun 30 minute show featuring the Sesame Street characters we all know (including Elmo and Cookie Monster) who gently raise issues facing children in military families. The kids are also treated to a number of gifts including twirly lights, bandanas, magnets and post cards. Parents also have access to a number of outreach materials focused on navigating the significant challenges of dealing with deployment.
This year, the show was revamped with new music, a new set design, and the introduction of a new Sesame Street character named Katie (see close-up). Katie is a military child experiencing the difficulty of relocation who was designed exclusively for the show. The Sesame Street characters help Katie talk about her fears – and excitement – elicited by the changes in her life.
Between the launch last April and the expected conclusion in November, the tour is expected to deliver approximately 147 shows on 59 bases around the world. Of course, we all can’t travel to bases to support military families. But we can take pride that the Sesame Street/USO Experience is doing this for us. Here’s a snippet from one of the shows that will certainly make you feel good: The Sesame Street/USO Experience
To learn more about the USO please visit uso.org
To learn more about the Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families and where the tour is headed next, visit uso.org/sesame
To learn more about other programs and services offered by the USO vist uso.org/programs
Photos courtesy of the USO and Fred Greaves
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