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June 26, 2015

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Raya’s First Visit to the Capitol!

By Dan Lewis


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On Wednesday June 17th, our newest member of the Sesame Street family, Raya traveled to Washington DC to spread the word to children and adults about the importance of using toilets, washing hands with soap, and using clean water. Her first stop was a visit with President of The World Bank, Dr. Jim Kim, where she talked about the important role that kids can play in global development.  Hundreds of World Bank staffers, supporters, and children of WBG employees joined the event that was streamed live for over 700 people.

The World Bank has continued to support the development of water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) infrastructure in many areas of the world where children lack access to improved toilets or water sources. Sesame Street has a unique opportunity to complement the World Bank’s provision of toilets and wells with our research driven expertise in delivering educational messaging – triggering important WASH-related behavior change such as washing hands and wearing sandals to the toilet. In the words of Sesame Workshop CEO Jeffrey Dunn, “We’re the software and the World Bank is the hardware.”[1]

With Raya as Sesame’s first-ever Global Health Ambassador, Sesame Street has committed to taking on the role of developing WASH “software” such as content, print and video materials, and health education programs for children in the most vulnerable areas. Raya’s visit on Wednesday allowed her, Sesame Street friend Count von Count, World Bank Group President Dr. Jim Yong Kim, and Sesame Workshop President and CEO Jeffrey D. Dunn to talk to the World Bank family about the role that children play as active change agents in improving healthy habits in their communities.

Dr. Kim hopes that the World Bank’s partnership with Sesame Street will reach beyond sanitation. He elaborates, “I watched Sesame Street when I was young, and then for the last 15 years — I have a 15-year-old and a 6-year-old — I’ve been watching Sesame Street almost daily. And I can tell you that the very careful marriage of important themes that focus on social cohesion and kindness and including everyone, these are messages that have had a huge impact on my children, and even on me.” Dr. Kim hopes to work with Sesame Workshop not only on the issue of water and sanitation but also to support and amplify messages for children in order to, “pursue our twin goals of ending extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity.”[2] Raya and the Count had a special meet and greet with Dr. Kim, answering questions from children and adults, and Raya even sang her favorite hand washing song.

Later in the afternoon, Raya was honored to sign the Women for Water & Sanitation Declaration with the Global Poverty Project and the UN Foundation in the Cannon House Office Building.  There were over 110 congressional staffers in the room wherein Raya once again highlighted her messages about sanitation and hygiene. She spoke about the importance of clean water, proper hygiene, and sanitation for kids – especially girls. Raya also had a chance to listen to WASH advocates such as Congressman Poe (R-TX) and Katie Taylor of USAID.

Look out for more information on our emerging partnership with The World Bank in the coming months, and be sure follow Raya’s worldwide WASH adventures on her Instagram account @SesameRaya.

[1] http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2015/06/18/triggering-behavior-change-childrens-role-in-development?CID=WAT_TT_Water_EN_EXT

[2] http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2015/06/18/triggering-behavior-change-childrens-role-in-development?CID=WAT_TT_Water_EN_EXT

 

 

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June 02, 2015

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Remarks of Ambassador Samantha Power at the 2015 Sesame Workshop Gala

By Dan Lewis


Last week, we presented Ambassador Samantha Power with the Joan Ganz Cooney Award for her work as a champion of women and girls around the world. She spoke about how Sesame Street impacted her life – as a child, as a parent, and as the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nation. Her complete remarks are available below.

Transcript

Thank you Joan for that very generous – overly generous introduction – and much more importantly, for having the smarts, the drive, and the imagination to help create Sesame Street nearly five decades ago. I’m hugely honored and very humbled to be up here and will just say a few words about what Sesame Street meant to me and what it means in the world.

I was born in 1970, the year after Sesame Street was founded.  I spent the first nine years of my life in Ireland, was born to Irish parents. And we didn’t have many American imports to Ireland back then. We had Chevon gas, we had Coca Cola, and we had Sesame Street. We had three channels on our TV and two of them showed programming that was in Irish, in Gaelic, much of the time. While that was a worthy effort on the part of the government not everybody was super fluent in Gaelic. And so it has to be said that Sesame Street which was on the third channel, was something of a salvation. And so I want to say a personal thanks to Joan because Sesame Street was my first introduction really to America.

And now I get to represent the United States at the United Nations and I just think it’s an extraordinary life journey to have been exposed to the diversity and wonderment in a way of this country and then to be here even for 30 seconds sharing the stage with Joan is extraordinary, as you can imagine.

As many of you in the audience know Sesame Workshop’s philosophy is founded on the idea that what kids see from a very young age has an outsized impact or imprint as we heard on the rest of their lives. And that is not only true for literacy and numeracy, but also for values.

And I see this with my own two small kids. I have a daughter who’s two named Rian and a six year old named Declan. And I make a point with my two kids of talking with them of about what I am doing in my day job. I do this in part because I myself saw through Sesame Street and through the way my mother, who is a physician, talked to me about her values and about her patients treating me early on as if I was kind of up for kind of hearing about what was going on during the day with her. In my case, it can have some slightly problematic consequences. I’ll give just one example here tonight. Which is when President Obama negotiated the beginnings of the Cuba normalization process, we were, of course, all sworn to secrecy, but I was bursting with this information and with this potential breakthrough.

So I decided to engage my then five year old Declan, as a Sesame Street adult would do, treating him with respect and seeing his dignity and his ability to take on new information. And he asked all the right questions. Where is Cuba? What’s an embargo? What did they ever do to us?

And all of it went very well. I felt I got to share this news. He seemed to get it and seemed very excited himself in his own way.  But about 7 hours later I was at the office and I got a call from the school nurse and he been involved in some rough play on the playground and been kicked in the nose and had a bloody nose and the school nurse was calling of course to tell me that; and he grabbed the phone from her the boy he was playing with his name was Sawyer, and he said “Mommy, Sawyer needs an embargo.”  I think that’s a bit of Sesame Street parenting to takeaway, but I do wonder everyday whether or not we wouldn’t in fact have world peace if more of my counterparts hadn’t been groomed on Big Bird instead of perhaps Big Brother. And so I think the global reach Sesame Street is having is likely to have ramifications for many years to come.

Now one of the reasons that Sesame Street has been so effective in shaping kids is that it meets those kids where they are.  Parts of Sesame Street look like their streets, and the parts that don’t, prepare them to walk down streets that don’t look like their streets with people who might look different than them or people who might come from a different neighborhood.

And it was no accident that when Sesame Street was launched in 1969 at time when there was a scarcity of African American male role models on television, the program created the character of Gordon Robinson, an African American to be the loving dad on the show.  And while we may take for granted today and shouldn’t take for granted today, that a cast of furry Muppets could be joined by an African American family and a married couple named Louis and Maria, for its time this was ground breaking.  And so much that has come since goes back to the decisions that Joan and her team made before it was fashionable.

This approach of meeting people where they are is something I try to do at the UN.  It is a key part of the way President Obama asks his diplomats to go about their business in the world.  We understand that America is stronger when we know how to see the world through the eyes of other countries, whether they are allies or adversaries, and when we do some listening as well as some speaking.  And this can be done in some really small ways.  The UN has 193 member states; most of whose streets look very different from ours; and since taking up my post I’ve tried to visit as many of the missions in the UN as possible.  I’m up to about 120 missions.  It’s their embassies.  These are their homes. They put their pictures on the wall.  They hang their art.  It’s the books that they have carried with them often thousands of miles to put on their coffee tables. And I think in a way by going to them and meeting them on their street we show an America that actually respects and cares about the dignity of other countries.  And I think that’s a version of Sesame Street diplomacy.

So finally, this approach of meeting people and physically and metaphorically where they are is what Sesame Workshop expansion into countries around the world is all about.  And I know it’s been said here earlier this evening, it is one this for children in India to be told that proper sanitation will keep them healthy; it’s important.  But it reaches kids in an entirely different way, when Rana, the fuzzy green Muppet girl on Galli Galli Sim Sim India’s version of Sesame Street explains to kids why she always wears sandals to protect her feet when she goes to the latrine.

It is one thing to tell girls in Nigeria and their families about the importance of getting an education; it resonates in an entirely different way when they see Kami, a bright yellow girl Muppet on Nigeria’s Sesame Square talking about how much she loves school and sports.  These Muppets may be fuzzier than the normal kids but they speak their languages and they speak to the challenges in the world that so many are facing today.  And in those fuzzy Muppets little Indian and Nigerian kids see themselves and they see what they are capable of just as my son and daughter do by watching Sesame Street; and just as I did as a little girl watching one my 3 channels and watching Joan’s tremendous creation.  So I am incredibly grateful, and I thank you Joan for your leadership and I thank you all for this very kind honor.  Thank you.

 

 

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January 30, 2015

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Why We Need to Care About Children With Incarcerated Parents

By Sesame Workshop


Boy+showing+Murray+his+drawing+of+visiting+his+mom-+Vaknin.

By Melissa Radcliff, Executive Director of Our Children’s Place

“Daddy, I never knew there were other kids with fathers in prison.”

I felt the lump in my throat and the tears in my eyes but I convinced myself I needed to keep it together at least until the session was over. I was leading a debriefing with a group of incarcerated men who had just participated in Parent Day with their visiting children. The day had been declared a success by all involved. Now the organizers were asking the men what they learned about their children, perhaps even something surprising, and what they would do differently next time.

We showed the fathers the Sesame Street DVD the night before Parent Day, then gave them the option of watching it with their children the next day. Some did, others didn’t. One of the men shared his daughter’s comment above. Her words reminded me again how isolated children of incarcerated parents can feel. Even more striking for me is that she said this after having spent a day with 22 other children who also have a father in prison.

We hope that giving that family the opportunity to watch the DVD has provided them with a starting point for future conversations. We have provided the kits to more than 700 individuals, organizations, and families across North Carolina who are looking to do just that: start the conversation in a low-key way, with the help of a known and respected entity, Sesame Street.

Thanks to a wonderful contact at the State Library of North Carolina, we have worked to make sure there is a Sesame Street toolkit in every public library branch across our state. Many of the library staff members have also attended regional workshops that provided information about these children and efforts across the state to support them. Our 2015 goal is to provide the kits to school libraries.

For those people who say to us,” I’ve never thought about these children, not because I don’t care but because no one’s asked me to,” the Sesame Street toolkit is our way of saying, “Please think about them.”

Children are surrounded by adults in their lives. Our job is to make sure that those people understand what it means for a child to have an incarcerated parent and what it takes to create a community where these children are recognized, supported, and encouraged to share their stories.

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December 08, 2014

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Sesame Workshop at the Mubadala Business Forum

By Robert Knezevic


Last month, I was invited to speak about Sesame Street’s work around the world at the Mubadala Business Forum, where 300 international industry leaders attended.  Mubadala is the primary sponsor of our Abu Dhabi based joint-venture, Bidaya Media, an organization dedicated to bringing Arabic educational TV programs to young children and their families in the region.  Bidaya’s inaugural project is Iftah Ya Simsim, the Arabic version of the award-winning children’s series Sesame Street.  Targeted to children ages 4-6, Iftah Ya Simsim is being locally produced to cater to the needs, culture, traditions, and will launch in 2015.

The talk was a big hit  and received a great reception.  I wanted to share it with you – it’s the Sesame story I like to tell!

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December 03, 2014

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Early Childhood Literacy – It Takes A Village

By Sesame Workshop


By Kimberly Saccaro, IICF Midwest Executive Director     

In 2013, the Insurance Industry Charitable Foundation (IICF) launched a national partnership with Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit organization behind Sesame Street, called Every Day is a Reading and Writing Day  in response to the wide gap in literacy rates between children of high and low income families.  Our primary objective was to create impactful and meaningful experiences for children, caregivers, and IICF volunteers.  What we have learned since our partnership began has been both surprising and inspiring.

Following the successful program launch in 2013, our focus has been engaging the insurance industry and working with our expansive networks to aid in the distribution of the Every Day is a Reading and Writing Day program materials. Industry engagement surged to record numbers during our recent Week of Giving, held across the country in mid-October.

Insurance industry volunteers, community partners, and municipalities came together during our 16th Annual Week of Giving to provide preschool-aged children and their caregivers the opportunity to experience the basic tenets of the Every Day is a Reading and Writing Day program – reading, writing and talking.  In partnership with public libraries in Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles and New York, over 5,000 children and caregivers took part in Every Day is a Reading and Writing Day activities throughout the week.

I had the opportunity to experience the Every Day is a Reading and Writing Day event first-hand in the Midwest at the Chicago Public Library. The day started with an excited and nervous energy as 200 volunteers from 20 different insurance companies gathered in the grand lobby of the Harold Washington Library in downtown Chicago.  Industry volunteers received assignments as a “Buddy”,  “Reading Station Volunteer”, or one of the other many volunteer roles. Others volunteers headed down to the bus arrival area to greet and escort the children upstairs. Remaining volunteers were teamed up with one of our nonprofit grantees,  Bernie’s Book Bank, to prepare bags of books to be distributed to the children to take home with them after the event.

And then the children arrived.  The broad and welcoming smiles exchanged between our volunteers and the 170 wide-eyed young children was an inspiring scene to witness.  Children linking up with their Buddies, a children’s book author reading her book, and excited little ones shrieking with glee as they spotted Cookie Monster waiting to give them a hug.   It was truly inspiring to see the positive reaction to all involved.

As I walked throughout the library photographing the conversations, drawing, and story-telling, I was struck by how these simple, every day  activities were captivating the attention of not only the children in the room but their grown-up counterparts.  It struck me how happy and engaged so many of the children seemed with an adult giving them their undivided attention during these every day moments.

This concept of “every day moments” having a significant impact on early literacy is something we learned from the knowledgeable research and program teams at Sesame Workshop during our partnership, but to witness it in action was a different story – it was surprising.   Even as a mother of a five-year-old kindergartener, I was still surprised that so much impact could be made with such simple and relatively short activities.  It occurred to me, in witnessing these every day moments between a child and a caring adult that had just met each other that day, early literacy is a group effort.  It is our responsibility as a society, as parents, educators, business people, and corporations, to each do our part to help our youngest and most promising citizens become literate.  Their future, and therefore our future as a society and economy, can be significantly and positively influenced by a collaborative community effort.

I am proud to be a part of an industry that both acknowledges this important social issue and is committed to taking action to bridge the gap in early literacy.  We can do more, together and continue to support organizations like Sesame Workshop fulfill their mission to help all kids grow smarter, stronger and kinder.

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November 19, 2014

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Raya Attends Global Citizen Festival, Talks Sanitation and Hygiene

By Sesame Workshop


2.6 billion people worldwide do not have access to safe toilets, and in some regions, more people have access to cell phones than to toilets. And even as we work to bring attention to that problem, we also need to work toward changing the attitudes, habits, and practices around water, sanitation, and hygiene. Raya is one of many voices leading the charge through Sesame Workshop’s WASH UP! initiative.

On Saturday, September 27, Raya attended the Global Citizen Festival, an event designed to bring global leaders, socially conscious celebrities and musicians, and thousands of concerned citizens together in an effort to end extreme poverty by 2030. Raya kicked the day off with Sesame Workshop’s Vice President, International, Stephen Sobhani, at MSNBC on Melissa Harris Perry.

She then moved on to the Global Citizen Festival in Central Park where she rocked out with 60,000 of her closest friends in New York to No Doubt and Jay Z. (And she grabbed a selfie along the way!)

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Raya’s selfie!

At the concert, Raya and Elmo had a special meet and greet with Prime Minster of India, Narendra Modi and World Bank President, Dr. Jim Kim. Dr. Kim was eager to tell Elmo and Raya about how he and Prime Minster Modi would be cleaning the Ganges for children.

During the festival, a public service announcement highlighting proper latrine use was broadcast to the live audience and aired on MSNBC’s live festival coverage.

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Raya and Questlove!

Raya and Elmo had a special meet and greet with Prime Minster of India, Narendra Modi and World Bank President, Dr. Jim Kim.

Raya and Elmo had a special meet and greet with Prime Minster of India, Narendra Modi and World Bank President, Dr. Jim Kim.

For more information on WASH Up!, click here.

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October 09, 2014

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I Found My Way to Sesame Street: Cheryl Baxter, Sesame Street Live

By Sesame Workshop


Cheryls head shot

Cheryl Baxter (pictured above) is a director and choreographer with Sesame Street Live. Here’s her look back at how she found her way to Sesame Street.

I have directed and choreographed shows for Sesame Street Live since 1996. Some years I may work on two or three shows during a season. “Let’s Dance!” is a different format than other shows we have done in the past. There will be more audience participation, and, for some of the numbers the characters will be in the audience teaching various dances!

I really enjoy the rehearsal process. The creative team has a vision first on paper, then the music and choreography is set, and then it’s put on the performers. We start creating the shows months before rehearsals start in August – it’s exciting when we see it come to life.

The new challenges the show poses is to build in enough time musically for the characters to come on and off of the audience floor. At times there are eight characters going from the stage and covering the floor to interact with as many audience members as possible; building extra time to get them back on stage to do their next number is important.

My annual visit to La Crosse has always been a special time for me personally. I now live in Los Angeles, but I grew up in a small town in Wisconsin about an hour away from La Crosse, so getting the opportunity to open a show near my hometown is fantastic. My mom is a dance teacher in Wisconsin so she brings her dance students to the shows in La Crosse every year!

 

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October 08, 2014

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Doctors, and Academic Medical Journal and… Sesame Street?

By Sesame Workshop


AnnalsThe authors of an article being published in Annals of Internal Medicine (available here) say that physicians are getting a wake-up call about the effects of mass incarceration from an unexpected place: Sesame Street. Currently, more than two million people are incarcerated in the United States – more than any other country in the world. The authors of “Sesame Street Goes to Jail: Physicians Should Follow” argue that while many people need to be in prison for the safety of society, a majority are incarcerated due to behaviors attributable to treatable diseases such as mental illness and addiction. The authors suggest policy changes that would allow doctors to steer eligible defendants into treatment programs rather than correctional facilities, when appropriate. When incarceration is necessary, doctors and correctional medicine should coordinate transfer of patient care upon release so that any gains made during incarceration are not lost. They say that physicians also should be aware of social issues such as education, housing, race, and poverty because they can adversely affect health. These same issues also increase the risk of incarceration.

The authors were inspired to call physicians to action by Sesame Street’s Little Children, Big Challenges: Incarceration initiative. A Muppet named Alex provides support and a voice for young kids, while the online toolkit provides caregivers with a range of materials to help guide children through the challenges associated with the incarceration of a loved one. This is important, say the authors, because incarceration plays a role in health and health disparities for not only the person incarcerated, but also for their families.

Two of the authors, Scott Allen MD and Jody Rich MD, MPH, pictured above, shared their thoughts with us, below.

Scott:  What common ground would a couple of doctors writing for an academic medical journal have with Sesame Street?  Well, thanks to the groundbreaking work on the impact of incarceration on families and communities done by Lynn Chwatsky and her team at Sesame Workshop, we learned that there’s plenty of common ground.

Dr. Jody Rich and I like to say that we met in prison –  which is true – we were both physicians treating patient in the Rhode Island system in the late 1990’s.  In prison, the process of seeing patients is often interrupted by the prison routines including an important process called “the count.”  The count is the process of literally the counting of the inmates by officers that occurs at multiple times across the day.  Anyone working in prison knows when they hear the announcement “Time for the count!” work comes to a stand still.  And just as predictably, whenever we’d hear that announcement, Dr. Rich would assume the voice of Sesame Street’s Count von Count.  “I count a-one… I count a-two… I count a-three…”

Over the years and through our work with inmate patients and their communities, we grew increasingly concerned about the impact of the widespread use of incarceration in the United States.  We co-founded the Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights at the Miriam Hospital, Brown University in an effort to raise awareness of the impact of incarceration on health.  And then one day, our colleague Dora Dumont brought the character of Alex the muppet with an incarcerated father to our attention.  Inspired by Sesame Street’s attention, we cited the character of Alex in a paper written for an academic journal, Annals of Internal Medicine arguing for increased attention by physicians to the impact of incarceration on patients and their communities.  The good people at Annals loved the paper, and after a few calls to the folks at Sesame Street, we agreed there was great synergy in our efforts. We agreed to collaborate on a short video news release.

Jody and I traveled to New York to Sesame Street, and despite our academic titles and roles as physicians, we were as excited as school kids to meet Alex, our new muppet friend, along with Lynn and the staff behind this terrific outreach effort.

And as a bonus, once we wrapped up the shoot with Alex, out of nowhere appeared the one and only Count to participate in another unrelated shoot.

I looked over at Jody.  I knew what was coming.

“It’s time for the Count! I count a-one… I count a-two… I count a-three…”

The Count overheard our conversation.  “Ahh!  You like to count, too!  Let’s count TOGETHER!”

Jody: Dora Dumont came up with the idea and Scott and I immediately jumped on. This work by the Sesame Street team is outstanding and synergistic to our efforts. What is going on in the United States right now with incarceration rates higher than ever before is downright un-American. It is unjust, unfair, wrong and detrimental to the very fabric of our society. Everybody loves Sesame Street and what better way to get our message across.

When the Annals of Internal Medicine agreed to publish our article and mentioned that there could be an accompanying video, we began chanting “We’re going to Sesame Street!”

When we finally went it impressed our friends and families more than anything we’ve done before: instant credibility from our children and their friends.

Scott is accurate in his description of our excitement upon arriving at Sesame Street. We were as excited as school kids getting ice cream.

We were so honored to meet Alex, but also the Count.  Over the years, I’ve imitated the Count so many times when explaining the prison “count” to students and visitors.  And never in my wildest dreams did I think we would actually get to meet THE Count!

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October 07, 2014

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I Found My Way to Sesame Street: Lisa Marie Fulton, Sesame Street Live

By Sesame Workshop


vee1Lisa Marie Fulton (pictured in the green hat above) is a professional Sesame Street character performer. She is going into her sixth season with Sesame Street Live and her seventh with VEE Corporation. Here’s her look back at how she found her way to Sesame Street.

My journey started in 1985, I was 4 years old and my mom and grandma took my brother and me to see Sesame Street Live in Detroit. I was mesmerized — hooked. I was going to be on that stage when I grew up! We continued to see the show year after year. As I grew older, my ambitions changed as fast as my shoe size. When I grew up I wanted to be a teacher, a cartoonist, or a stay-at-home mom. But in my heart I always knew I wanted to be on stage.

Throughout my life, I’ve worked to get there. When I was young I started taking dance classes at Randazzo Dance Studio. At Ypsilanti High School I joined a club that involved performance. I went to college and graduated in 2003 with a degree in theatre from Bowling Green State University. My first audition out of college? It was for Sesame Street Live in Columbus, OH.

I didn’t get it.

Of course, I was disappointed. But I was a performer and rejection is inevitable. Sometimes you’re just not the right fit.

Shortly thereafter, I moved to Minneapolis. While there I acted, taught, designed costumes, danced and even became the mascot for the Saint Paul Saints professional baseball team. I was pretty content with my life until one day I saw a posting for Sesame Street Live auditions at Target Center. It had been more than three years since my first audition, but I had more professional experience and even costume character experience so I decided to go. Six months after that audition I got the call to go on tour with VEE Corporation.

Three years after that I stepped on stage as Baby Bear. I had finally found my way to Sesame Street.

This is where I live. Of course traveling the country I miss my friends and family back home (luckily, I’ve gotten to perform for them in my travels) but tour is my home away from home and the people I tour with are like family. I’ve been like an older sister, younger sister, mother and even the cool aunt to some of my tour mates. I still have close relationships with people I’ve toured with, especially those I shared hotel rooms with for ten months at a time. For example, I know I can call or text fellow performer Timmy Hayes, former management team members Dave and Mary Hart, and countless others at anytime for a laugh or tough love.

Touring is a lifestyle full of hard work and adventures. It requires a dedication to your craft unlike any other. Touring also has it perks like traveling to new places. On my days off I like to visit major and minor league ballparks (Go Tigers!) and try the different foods each state has to offer. (New Orleans has my vote for the best!) I also love seeing what challenges each year brings. This year I decided to go back to school. I was accepted to Purdue’s Master in Communication program. So while I continue to travel the country performing I will be taking online classes and fulfill another dream of mine by obtaining my master’s degree. I know it won’t be easy, however, like Grover says (which I also quoted in my essay to get into grad school, thank you Grover!):

 I, Grover, am big and tall
and very smart and kind of cute and wonderful
I think that there is nothing I cannot do

I wholeheartedly believe that. I can do anything. Hey, I found my way to Sesame Street, didn’t I?

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October 03, 2014

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The Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families Hits a Major Milestone!

By Dan Lewis


Nicole McClendon is the tour manager for the Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families, a free traveling USO tour created exclusively for troops and their families.  As the tour prepares to celebrate visiting and entertaining more than 500k service members and their families, we asked Nicole to share some of the experiences she has had while traveling to military bases around the world with Elmo and friends.

Milestone of 500K service members and their families set by Sesame Stree/USO.Nicole, what made you decide that you wanted to be a part of the Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families?  Do you have family in the military?

I have always admired the USO and what it has done for our troops all over the world.  My grandmother was actually a “USO girl” during World War II, and I grew up listening to her stories, as well as those of my grandfathers and uncles that served in World War II, Korea, Vietnam and Iraq. The USO was always a bright spot in their service. I have an uncle who is now an award winning gourmet chef, and to this day, he rates all egg salad sandwiches by the delicious ones served by the USO that he enjoyed in Vietnam. I also have many childhood friends who served and continue to serve in the military.

That said, I have always wanted to find a way to express my gratitude to our troops stationed at home and around the world for the sacrifices they make every single day that allow me the freedoms that I enjoy as I travel our country and the world.  This particular show is especially meaningful to me because I have many friends who grew up as military kids themselves, and they have often talked about how hard moving can be.  This show is catered to today’s military kids, who are experiencing the same thing many of my closest friends did when they were young.  It’s an ideal way for me to express my gratitude and give back to the folks who need it most.

How is this show special?

This show is special in so many ways.  First, we bring the show right to the base so there’s no need for families to travel far.  Second, Sesame Street is an American treasure that so many parents trust and grew-up with, and this show is an outgrowth of Sesame Workshop’s military families initiatives Talk, Listen, Connect.  It’s fun, entertaining and hits on important topics that today’s military families face every day.  Kids and parents dance and sing, but the show is also an icebreaker for parents to talk to their children about their feelings after the final curtain.  And last, but not least, the partnership between Sesame Street and the USO just works.  The USO has been lifting the spirits of troops and military families for more than 70 years, and is always by their side.  Sesame Street knows kids. And when you put the two together – it is a perfect combination.

What is it like living on a bus for six or seven months at a time? 

Living on a bus for six to seven months at a time is a great way to see the country.  As we drive from place to place, we often watch the scenery rather than the television.  After about a month, the novelty of eating out at different restaurants every night wears off a bit and we find ways to “cook” for ourselves.  Care packages from home with such treats as home baked cookies go a long way, especially since Cookie Monster shares them with everyone on the bus.  Just like our troops that are far away from home, a home cooked meal is often the highlight of wherever we are.

Do you feel like traveling from base to base, making new friends and then leaving provides you a glimpse into what it is like for military kids who have to move?

Traveling on this tour and being on the road certainly allows me a glimpse into what military life is like.  Of course I have the benefit of being an adult and not having a parent in the military who happens to be deployed at the moment.  We pack-up the show and move to the next military base every few days, so just as Katie says in the show, just when we feel settled in a place, maybe even just unpack our suitcase, it’s time to pack it all up on the bus and truck again and head down the road.  Of course, traveling with Elmo by my side makes it a wee bit easier to make friends at each new base we go to!

What makes this whole experience worth it for you?  Have you experienced any moments during the tour that made you think, wow, I’m part of something so much bigger?

Seeing the smiles on hundreds of kids and parents faces each day makes the experience more than worth it for me.  When parents take pictures of their kids enjoying the show and tell their youngsters that the Sesame Street/USO show is for military families like us, it definitely resonates with me. When we bring the show to these bases, it means so much to the military families, and they tell us that every day.  It’s wonderful to think that just be getting up in the morning and doing my job, I can help spread happiness from base to base.

Why is the 500K milestone worth celebrating?

Pausing for a moment to recognize that we will have visited and entertained more than 500k military family members is essential to celebrate.  The fact that all these years, performances and bases later, this show is still something that military families show up for in droves and still enjoy attending, means that Sesame Street and the USO have succeeded in their mission of lifting the spirits of America’s troops and their families.  If 500K military family members have seen the show, that means we’ve made that many military family members smile and know they are not alone.  As smiles are contagious, we can only hope that the 500k visitors spread smiles to at least one other person, which would mean we’ve helped create almost a million more smiles and special moments amongst our military friends.

What’s the best thing about this experience for you?

There are so many things that I enjoy about this Sesame Street/USO Experience, but the thing that gives me the most warm fuzzies every single performance is seeing parents in uniform enjoying the show with their kids.  Bringing families together is always a tremendous thing to witness.

What’s the coolest thing you have seen?  The craziest?

In Fort Lee, VA, we had a 40-member volunteer detail for load-out that showed up early in order to watch the last show prior to helping us pack up happiness.  Every single one of them got up on their feet and danced the Elmo slide.  It was amazing!  I haven’t seen a lot of crazy things.  We tend to contain crazy, like the tornado warning at Dover Air Force Base, where several parents got alerts on their phone, but didn’t want the show to end due to crazy weather.  Luckily, the venue was also the “Shelter In Place” location for the base, so the muppets didn’t miss a beat!

Is Elmo hard to work with off camera?

Most of the time I spend working with Elmo is actually off camera, and he is actually a joy to work with and be around.  He’s always on time and ready for his shows, no matter if they interfere with naptime or not.  Elmo is great about pacing himself too; so that he has all the energy he possibly can to dance, play with Katie and meet new military friends at every base.

I consider it an honor to do what I do and to be a part of the Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families.  Now that I spread happiness from base to base, I don’t know if I could ever do anything else.  Making military families happy makes me happy beyond my wildest dreams and I can’t thank them enough for everything they do for us.

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