In April, in response to the staggering number of military families with young children facing deployments of a Mom or Dad, Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit organization behind "Sesame Street," launched Phase 2 of an initiative specifically designed to support military families with children between ages 2 and 5 experiencing deployments, multiple deployments or when a parent returns home changed due to a combat-related injury.
When we think of the causalities, challenges and sacrifices of war, we rarely think of the smallest members of our military families who forfeit something irreplaceable when a parent is deployed: having Mom or Dad at home. For a small child, Mom and Dad are the world, and having that world "disappear" is both upsetting and confusing...A 2008 Rand Corp. survey found as many as 700,000 children under age 5 have a parent in the military. And an estimated 300,000 U.S. troops are experiencing major depression or post-traumatic stress from serving in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and 320,000 suffered some sort of brain injury. This radically alters the reality a family endures once the deployed spouse returns, making the homecoming almost as difficult as the deployment.
This is why Sesame Workshop used its characters and powerful real stories of active service personnel to produce our bilingual "Talk, Listen, Connect" kit. Thus far, we've given away more than 600,000 kits with an increasing number of families of members of our Armed Forces looking for tools and resources to address their family's needs. TLC helps families identify and bridge the communication gap that arises from a small child's inability to express his or her emotions and a parent's uncertainty in addressing the complexity of the situation Who better than their friend Elmo, whom they identify with, to let them know it's OK to feel the way they feel?
As an extension of TLC, Sesame Workshop in partnership with the USO created "The Sesame Street Experience for Military Families": a free, 60-minute experience featuring a live Muppet performance and giveaways that traveled across the U.S. from July to November 2008, performing at 43 military installations from California to Florida. You have to witness the faces of the kids' parents and the emotional expressions of gratitude I received to know we were fulfilling our "mission."