September 13, 2012

Sesame Street dances into hearts of military children

Cpl. Sean Dennison
Desert Warrior Staff
Photo By Lance Cpl. Zac Scanlon
Cookie Monster and Elmo, characters of the Sesame Street program, shake hands with children attending the Sesame Street Show at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma’s gym, Sept. 6. They were part of a show geared towards military children who often move several times before finishing high school.

Residents of Sesame Street temporarily found a new home at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma Sept. 6-7.

The tour is part of the United Services Organization’s, “Sesame Street Experience for Military Families”, which has been in effect since 2008 and travels internationally to provide educational fun for military children.

USO collaborated with the Sesame Workshop and VEE Corporation, which has been doing Sesame Street shows for 32 years, to put on the show for military installations.

MCAS audiences attended three shows, two on Sept. 6, and one on Sept. 7.

USO began its 2012 tour in April at Scott Air Force Base, Ill. Yuma was the tour’s 47th stop out of a planned 68.

The Sesame Street workshop introduced a new muppet for the show, created specifically for military children: Katie, a military dependent whose parents are about to transfer to a new base.

Katie, a character of the Sesame Street program, talks to the children watching the Sesame Street Show at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma’s gym, Sep. 6. She was designed to be the relatable character for children who move a lot and help them better cope with the moves.

“We’re teaching the kids how to deal with moving to a new base,” said Tom Zaizar, the VEE Corporation’s company manager. “For some kids, this is the only home they’ve ever had. They’re excited to move, but they’re scared too.”

According to Tom, Katie is meant to be a reflection of the kids, interested in what new adventures she’ll embark upon at her new home, but also filled with anxiety about leaving Elmo and friends.

To better include every military child, not just one service, Katie’s parents’ service branch is never revealed, explained Zaizar.

The interactive show had Sesame Street regulars Elmo, Grover, Cookie Monster, Rosita and Honker, who through a mix of song and dance, assuage Katie’s fears about moving.

“When you’ve got on your dancing shoes, you can dance away the blues,” said Elmo during one of the show’s numbers.

Elmo and his crew gave Katie advice on how to keep the friends she made on Sesame Street, such as giving them a call just to say “hello.”

“Katie teaches them (the kids) how to make new friends and to keep the old friends,” said Zaizar.

The end of the show depicts Katie looking forward to the move, thanks to efforts of Elmo and friends.

“It’ll be an adventure, where I’ll get to make new friends,” she said.

Katie and her friends gave out hugs to kids, many of whom never stopped dancing throughout the entire feature.

Kids in the audience may have thought they were the ones being treated, but the feeling was matched by the people putting on the show.

From left to right: Honker, Rosita, Elmo, Katie and Cookie Monster, characters of the Sesame Street program, interact with the children at the end of the show at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma’s gym, Sept. 6.

“It feels so rewarding giving back to military families,” said Zaizar. “It’s a privilege to have this job, to give back to families who’ve sacrificed so much for us and our country.”

The show’s importance reflected on the parents as well.

“I thought the show was awesome,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Charles Dine, a Marine Wing Support Squadron 371 expeditionary airfield officer and a native of Yuma, Ariz, who brought his kid to the show. “I think it’s great that they support the military families like this – that’s what the whole show was about. The message was awesome: to let the little ones know that if they are moving it is not the end of the world and that no matter where they go they can make friends. It was a good message. With so many benefits on base like this, families should really take advantage of it.”

Sesame Street first aired in 1969 and since then, it’s been considered a milestone in the children’s entertainment industry, reaping numerous awards and acting as a staple for early child development and education.

MCAS Yuma marked the tour’s final stop for Marine Corps bases for 2012.

This story was brought to you by the letter Q and the number 9.

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