By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 18, 2009 - Sesame Workshop continues to find unique and creative ways to reach out to the very youngest in military families, Deputy Defense Secretary William J. Lynn III said here today during a sneak preview of a new primetime Sesame program.
"There are few characters more beloved than the Sesame Street friends, and through Elmo and Rosita, military kids can better grasp how to reconnect with their loved ones after redeployment," Lynn said. "They will see that they are not alone in feeling confused or anxious, and that they and their families can learn new ways of ... supporting one another."
"Coming Home: Military Families Cope with Change," is scheduled to air April 1 on PBS at 8 p.m., in conjunction with the start of the Month of the Military Child. The show, which features Queen Latifah, musician John Mayer, and of course, Elmo, allows viewers to step inside a few military families' lives and learn how they've coped with life-altering changes.
With some help from Elmo's friend Rosita, the trio talks with real military families who have faced changes because of a loved one's injuries, which can be either external and visible or internal and invisible.
And Rosita can relate to the military children. Her father's legs "don't work any more," and he uses a wheelchair. he finds that just like her father and her, the military families are adapting to changes in the same way: together.
The relationship between Sesame Workshop and the military, which produced "Talk, Listen, Connect," an initiative providing support and resources for military families facing deployments or changes due to combat, began several years ago, Lynn said.
"The program we are celebrating today is a terrific effort to help those families," he said. "Many of our servicemembers will tell you they fight for our country, but they also fight for our kids and they fight for their kids.
"I know they appreciate groups like Sesame Workshop that are looking out for their interests at home," Lynn added.
The initiative offers some of what Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki said men and women in uniform deserve for their service.
"Those who serve our country in uniform deserve the very best nurturing we can provide, and that includes helping their precious children learn to live with a mom or dad who may not be quite the same person they watched go off to war," Shinseki said. "We are grateful to Sesame Street for bringing the sensitive subject to the wider American audience through this TV special and its accompanying educational materials.
" Since the inception of Talk, Listen, Connect two years ago, the initiative has grown and evolved, Sesame Workshop's president and chief executive officer said today.
"[It] has struck a chord, we've noticed, with a military community in a way that we never could have expected," Gary Knell said. "Through this project, we're helping kids and families unite and find reassurance that they are not alone in their journey.
"Who would have thought Elmo and Rosita could help these families find ways to grasp and to cope with their changing circumstances?" he added.
That's exactly what is happening, however. Sammy Cila, 9, who participated in the new special with his family, said the one thing he'd like other military kids to know is there are other kids going through this, too.
"There's no need to be worried about it," he said. "It's actually great [to know] that there's other families that are going through the same thing.
" Sammy's father, Army Sgt. Sebastian Cila, who was serving in Iraq when his left arm was severely injured, sang the primetime program's praises, too.
"I believe it will help families tremendously. I was thrilled with the project, [and] I think they did a great job," Cila said. "It just kind of gives some insight and some behind-the-scenes of what families go through with injuries and disappointments.
" Cila's wife, Anna, agreed. "They did a really nice job portraying the situations that the families are going through," she said. "It's true to my heart that what we saw today is something good; something really good is going to come out of it.
" About 800,000 Talk, Listen, Connect kits have been distributed in the two years of the initiative's existence. Each contains DVDs and print materials to help military families cope with different aspects of deployment, change and even loss.
More than 1.3 million kits have been produced and are being distributed at no cost to families, schools, family support programs, hospitals and rehabilitation centers. The kits, produced in both English and Spanish, also are available for download from the Sesame Street Web site.