Elmo Helps Military Kids Through Deployments

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 4, 2007 - Sesame Street's Elmo and his friends at Sesame Workshop are helping military children deal with a parent's deployment through a new project called "Talk, Listen, Connect: Helping Families During Military Deployment."

Sesame Workshop and Wal-Mart Stores Inc., an America Supports You corporate team member, launched the project last August, with additional support from New York State Office of Mental Health and the Military Child Education Coalition.

America Supports You is a Defense Department program that highlights ways in which American individuals, home front groups and companies are supporting U.S. troops and their families.

Talk, Listen and Connect was created to help military families cope with the challenges of deployment when research showed a true need for outreach to military pre-school children.

"The emotional toll that the conflict and the deployments overseas have on families is what inspired us to try to deal with the 700,000 (military) pre-school children," Gary Knell, president and chief executive officer of Sesame Workshop said. "When we heard about the statistic, we felt that there was a way in which we could connect the almost four decades ... of Sesame Street and Sesame Workshop's work to this important cause."

The Talk, Listen, Connect project offers families a kit with materials in English and Spanish to help them better cope with deployments. That kit provides parents a DVD featuring Elmo and his dad who preparing to deploy, a poster that explains some of the ways Elmo is dealing with the his father's absence, and a magazine for parents and caregivers.

"What we found ... is that the kit provides parents with strategies to help their preschoolers cope with deployment," Lawrence Hooper, a partner with Russell Research, which helped conduct an impact study of the kit, said. "The strategies (are) to answer your child completely, do things to feel normal, have age-appropriate chores to foster independence, and do things to keep the child busy."

The results of the impact study were presented at a luncheon here yesterday. Hooper said the results were all positive and revealed that the kit was appealing, easy to understand and provided useful activities and strategies that were easy to implement.

"As importantly, it helped parents and kids feel better ... and prepared them for future deployment," he said.

Joanna Lopez, whose family is featured on the DVD, agrees with the findings. Stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C., she is the mother of three children, ages 10, 6, and 4 months. Her husband, Army Staff Sgt. Ernesto Lopez, is on his third deployment to Iraq.

"The video helped me a lot," she said about appearing in and watching the video. "It was wonderful for me and my kids that we are going to share our activities and out ability to stay calm when our dad is deployed."

Lopez, a Spanish-speaking day care provider for military children, said her family's goal in appearing in the video was to help parents help their children understand the deployment, that dad or mom are working, and that it's not forever. She also learned that staying busy is key.

Leslye Arsht, deputy undersecretary of defense for military community and family policy, said the kit was a much-needed addition to her office's arsenal of literature.

"The materials themselves filled a very important gap in the literature and in the tools that we had for military families," she said. "We know a lot about the effects of deployment and of the stages around deployment, but we really didn't have very many materials for pre-school children, and we didn't have very many supports for pre-school parents."

The Listen, Talk, Connect materials, which Arsht described as groundbreaking, helped parents as much as it did the children. It also served as a boost for Military OneSource, an online resource for military families. The site,, is one of the methods by which military families can acquire the Talk, Listen, Connect kit.

"By using Military OneSource as a mechanism for distributing this wonderful tool, we've also raised its profile and its availability ... so that other things that we have available to support (military families) are also more accessible," Arsht said. "On all of those grounds, I would say this has been a terrific asset and addition for helping families cope with their military lifestyle."

Military families have requested about 250,000 kits since August, Knell said. With support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, "When Parents are Deployed" will air April 9, on PBS stations across the country, and Maryland Public Television will air the piece twice during Memorial Day weekend, Knell added.

Editor's Note: Military families can also avail themselves of the Defense Department's America Supports You program, which highlights home-front groups across the nation that are providing a variety of services and support to troops and their families. A listing of these groups and information about their efforts is available at

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