Milestone: Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families Entertains its 500,000th Military Family Member

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

FORT BENNING, Georgia—It’s always a sunny day on Sesame Street. But Friday, Elmo, Cookie Monster and the Muppets had an extra special reason to sing and dance with all their friends: The Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families entertained its 500,000th military family member.

“The fact that we hit that particular number is a giant milestone for us,” said Nicole McClendon, tour manager for the USO/Sesame Street Experience for Military Families. “It was just so amazing to be able to work so closely with everyone here at Fort Benning to make this moment so special.”

To commemorate the milestone, Elmo and his Muppet friends posed with the audience for a commemorative photograph after their performance. Audience members also received a special cookie to take home with them in addition to other Sesame Street/USO tour goodies.

“I might have told them that they came from Cookie Monster, but [assured the kids] he didn’t eat them [all] before the show,” McClendon said.

Since 2008, this longest-running annual USO tour has delivered memorable moments to hundreds of thousands of military children and their parents through more than 735 shows at more than 140 military bases in 11 countries.

“Five hundred thousand represents the number of smiles Elmo and Katie have brought to military kids and their families … as the tour has traveled around the world,” USO President and CEO Dr. J.D. Crouch II said in a release. “We thank our friends at Sesame Street for helping to make this possible and we look forward to seeing many more smiling faces as the tour continues its journey.”

Video: USO, Congress and Sesame Street Team Build Warrior Care Packs for Recovering Troops

WASHINGTON—The USO enlisted help from Sesame Street and members of Congress to assemble 1,500 USO Warrior Care Packs for wounded, ill and injured troops at a service project Tuesday on Capitol Hill.

“The USO has always symbolized the outward expression of America’s commitment to our warriors, and now more than ever I think it’s so important,” said Congressman Tim Walz, a USO Congressional Caucus Co-Chair. “The American people care deeply, but they’re busy. … That’s where you and the USO come in to make sure to let them know that we are thinking of them — every moment of every day.”

Elmo, Cookie Monster, Grover and Katie – a muppet created especially for the Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families – helped Congress members and their aides assemble packages in the foyer of the Rayburn House Office Building. Those packages will head overseas for troops who need them most. Learn more about the USO Warrior Care Pack program and the Sesame Street/USO tour at USO.org.

–Video by Joseph Andrew Lee

 

With Parents Deployed, Military Toddlers Confront Monsters

He’s the baby on the block, but he already knows his A, B, C’s; his 1, 2, 3’s; and his Do-re-mi’s. He’s perpetually turned 3-and-a-half for nearly 20 years, but he’s still “got new shoes.”

For toddlers, he’s an A-List celebrity. For parents, he’s nothing short of a red felt superhero.

Elmo is back with the Sesame Street gang in the USO’s longest-running traveling show and the first-ever designed specifically for military families.

The Rood family and the Mowry family got a chance to meet the whole gang back stage, May 16, at the Wallace Theater on Ft. Belvoir. USO photo by Joseph Andrew Lee

Families like the Roods, who saw the Sesame Street/USO Experience at Fort Belvoir just three weeks before moving to a new duty station. Their 2-year-old son Deyvian may be too young to absorb what’s happening, but his older brother, 4-year-old Marques, will have to make new friends for the first time.

“I think it’s pretty cool how they incorporated a new character to talk about relocation,” said Army Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Rood, who came with his two sons and his wife, Kimberly, to see the show May 14 at the Wallace Theater.

Make no mistake—Marques and Deyvian are both diehard Elmo fans. But they might find they have a lot in common with the new kid on Sesame Street.  Her name is Katie, and she’s a 6-year-old military child moving to a new place. She is confronted with the same concerns of today’s real life military families like the Roods—the separation and anxiety of a deployment, and the stress of packing up every few years and relocating to a new base, a new city or a new country.

Ella Terry, 5-year-old daughter of Navy LCDR Ronald Terry, connects with Sesame Street character Katie, a 6-year-old girl who understands what it’s like to move to a new duty station. USO photo by Joseph Andrew Lee

Ella Terry is just 5 years old, and she likes that “Katie had a daddy in the military too.”

“I am a military child and you are a military spout (spouse),” she said, pointing to her mom, Beth, wife of Navy LCDR Ronald Terry.

“Ella has already moved from Maine to San Diego to Washington D.C. in just her first 15 months of life,” said Beth Terry. “And though the transitions were great and she had no idea it was happening, in a couple years we will move again, and I appreciate being able to remind her of Katie.”

Army Staff Sgt. Ryan Mowry is currently deployed to Afghanistan. His 2-year-old daughter, Keirah, attended the show with her mom, Crystal. At night, Keirah dances with her Rock and Roll Elmo doll and spins around giggling every time she hears him laugh. Her mom recalls doing the same thing when she was young.

“I remember learning so much from Sesame Street,” Crystal said. “Now, being able to watch her enjoy and grow up with the same characters, it is just incredible.”

Before the show, the Mowrys and the Roods had the chance to actually meet Elmo, Katie and the whole gang face to face. After her one-on-one with the not-so little red monster, Keirah was elated.

When asked what her deployed daddy would think about her meeting Elmo, her jubilation quickly subsided and her brows began knitting. She responded quietly, staring down at her feet.

“Daddy’s far, far away for work,” she said. ~ Story and photos by Joseph Andrew Lee, USO Staff Writer

***

The Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families tour has performed more than 371 shows on 115 installations in 33 states and 12 countries – lifting the spirits of 222,000+ military families. Tour dates, character bios and tour information can be found at www.uso.org/sesame

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Sesame Street Puppeteers Take ‘Elmo’ and ‘Rosita’ to Germany on a USO Adventure

Celebrated puppeteers Kevin Clash (Elmo) and Carmen Osbahr (Rosita) bring their Sesame Street characters to life during a performance at Ramstein Elementary School in Germany October 14, 2010, as part of a USO educational tour. In a show of appreciation, €˜Elmo€™ and €˜Rosita€™ sang, danced, and interacted with military kids throughout their performance. (USO photo by Jackie Zettles)

“I am so proud to be a part of Sesame Workshop’s Talk, Listen, Connect Initiative and to have the opportunity to go on a USO tour to Germany and uplift the spirits of today’s military schoolchildren.  They, unlike most of today’s youth, often face an array of changes on a routine basis and it is nice to know they aren’t being ignored or forgotten.” – Kevin Clash, the puppeteer behind Elmo

Elmo and Rosita and the celebrated puppeteers who bring them to life, Baltimore native Kevin Clash and Mexico City native Carmen Osbahr, lifted the spirits of nearly 1,000 troops and military schoolchildren stationed at four military school in Germany!  It’s the first tour for both Clash and Osbahr, whose performances are an extension of the USO/Sesame Street Experience for Military Families in collaboration with Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit organization behind Sesame Street, and the USO.

As part of the ten performances they put on, Elmo and Rosita sang songs and interacted with military school kids.  They also danced and expressed their thanks to schoolchildren, in addition to helping the young children in the audience – most ages 2 to 8 –  cope with challenging transitions in their lives, such as deployments and when a parent comes home with a combat-related injury.

It was a fantastic, family friendly tour that won’t soon be forgotten. Check out more pictures below!

A student at Ramstein Elementary School in Germany hugs Sesame Streetâ€'s Rosita€ after a USO-sponsored performance October 14, 2010. Osbahr, who performs €Rosita,€™ began her relationship with Sesame Street as a teenager in 1985. Part of Sesame Workshop'€™s Talk Listen Connect program for military families, her other credits include Kiki€™ in The Puzzle Place, a role in The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland and as Lily€™ in Johnny and The Sprites for the Disney Channel. (USO photo by Jackie Zettles)

Celebrated puppeteers Kevin Clash (Elmo) and Carmen Osbahr (Rosita) bring their Sesame Street characters to life during a performance at Ramstein Elementary School in Germany October 14, 2010. (USO photo by Jackie Zettles)

Sesame Street's €˜Rosita€™ (right) and Elmo pose for a photo after a performance at Vogelweh Elementary School in Germany October 13, 2010, as part of a USO educational tour. (USO photo by Jackie Zettles)

Kevin Clash head out into the crowd to let the children get up and close and personal with on of their favorite Sesame Street characters - Elmo, of course! - during a performance at Kaiserslautern Elementary School in Germany October 13, 2010, as part of a USO educational tour. (USO photo by Jackie Zettles)

Phase IV of the Sesame Street/USO Experience Ends on a High Note

Kids giggled and parents snapped photos of the costumed characters during the Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families show at Ft. Knox, KY, on April 18, 2010. (USO photo by Pat McDonogh)

Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU to all of the military families who came out to join us for the Sesame Street/USO Experience this year!  From April to September, from North Carolina to North Dakota, this tour extended its run as the longest-running entertainment tour in USO history.  We couldn’t do it without the support of Sesame Workshop and VEE Corporation, and all of you who attend the performances.  Some fun facts from Phase IV:

  • 43 Bases visited
  • 139 Shows performed
  • 15,700 Miles traveled
  • 552,956 Giveaways received
  • 72,054 Service members and families attended

Altogether – since the beginning of Phase I on July 8, 2008 – the tour has visited 90 bases; performed 315 shows; traveled through 9 countries; logged 61,242 miles; given away 1,455,029 goodies; and entertained 192,650 service members and their families – way to go!

Talk, Listen, Connect III: When Families Grieve

From Sesame Workshop: “The death of a parent is one of the most challenging things a child can face, and shockingly an estimated 2.5% of children under age 18 have experienced the death of a parent (approximately 2.5 million children)* and on March 10, 2010 TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors) estimated that the 5,398 U.S. military deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan had left 3,779 children without a parent, while 2,669 spouses had been widowed. In response, Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit organization behind Sesame Street, is launching When Families Grieve, an outreach initiative that provides free resources in support of families with young children, in the military and the general public, coping with the death of a parent.

When Families Grieve will launch with the premiere of a one hour primetime television special on PBS featuring Katie Couric and the Sesame Street Muppets airing nationwide on April 14th at 8:00 PM ET/ PT (check local listings). The special, produced by Sesame Workshop, in association with Worldwide Pants Incorporated and Lookalike Productions, will present families’ personal stories about coping with the death of a parent, as well as strategies that have helped these families move forward.

Katie Couric joins Sesame Street Muppets Elmo, Rosita and Jesse, and children who have lost a parent, in planting a tree at Madison Square Park in NYC, to honor those who have passed away as part of a Sesame Workshop outreach initiative, When Families Grieve. PBS will premiere an original special, “When Families Grieve,” on April 14 at 8pm and the free outreach kit, which will also be available online at http://www.sesamestreet.org, will roll-out on April 15. (Photo credit: Sesame Workshop/Gil Vaknin)

Immediately following the special, Sesame Workshop will begin the roll out of close to one million free multimedia kits to families and grief service providers nationwide. Through partnerships with organizations within the military (including The USO) and the general public that already provide services and resources to grieving families, Sesame Workshop will ensure that kits reach those who need them most. Organizational partnerships include Military Services casualty offices, Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), childhood grief centers, national nonprofit aid organizations, professional associations, religious communities, foster parents, and others. All materials will also be available online at sesamestreet.org/grief beginning April 15.

We are proud to support the Talk, Listen, Connect series and hope you’ll watch the PBS special tonight.  And take a moment to learn more about the resources from Talk, Listen, Connect: Deployments, Homecomings, Changes and The Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families, which returns stateside in 2010.