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Petty Officer 1st Class Chad McNeeley, Office of the Secretary of Defense Public Affairs
WASHINGTON, D.C. - 04.13.2010 With help from a few familiar faces from Sesame Street, top defense officials hosted a preview of Sesame Workshop's newest outreach initiative, "When Families Grieve," here April 13.
Deputy Defense Secretary William J. Lynn III and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Adm. Mike Mullen joined Sesame's Elmo, Rosita and cousin Jesse at the Pentagon for a special viewing of the initiative, which provides free resources in support of families with young children coping with the death of a parent.
This initiative addresses the challenge of confronting death and loss, Lynn said, topics that are difficult to talk about, particularly with children.
"But nothing is more important than supporting our families," he said. "It's important to have the tools to help the youngest members of our military families deal with their challenges."
The initiative acknowledges the range of emotions children feel when confronted with loss, from sadness to anger to eventual moments of happiness, Lynn said.
"Elmo, Rosita and Jesse help us reach children in ways that they can understand," he said. "They also show adults how to reassure their children that they are safe and loved."
The loss of a loved one is the most devastating challenge, and something no one should have to experience alone, Mullen emphasized.
"I'd also like to affirm and reaffirm the leadership's dedication to families, those who have made such a difference in these very difficult times in order to support the challenges that we have as a country and as a military," he said. "And that dedication, that focus and that priority will never go away.
"It's about supporting our families and those who sacrifice so much for the rest of their lives," he added.
Mullen thanked Sesame Workshop for addressing "very, very difficult" issues. "As they say, when Elmo talks, children listen," he said.
In the past eight and a half years, more than 12,000 military children have experienced the death of a parent, noted Gary E. Knell, president and CEO of Sesame Workshop.
"We know how difficult these times can be," he said. "And with the power of our characters paired with resources that we are trying to create, we are hopefully offering the right words for both kids and adults."
"When Families Grieve" will launch tomorrow with a one-hour primetime special, featuring Katie Couric and the Sesame Muppets, on PBS at 8 p.m. EDT, Knell said. The special shows how Elmo and his cousin Jesse deal with the loss of Jesse's father, and also presents four families' personal stories about coping with the death of a parent, as well as the strategies that helped them move forward.
Two of the families are military: one with a parent who died in combat and the other with a parent who committed suicide.
"What makes this program so unique is that we hear from the children of these families and gain insights into their thoughts and feelings about the death of their parent," Knell said. "This project, we hope, will help us to bridge the gaps that might exist between military kids and children within the general public."
After the special, Sesame Workshop will roll out nearly 1 million free multimedia kits to families and grief service providers worldwide, Knell said. The kit includes a DVD featuring the Muppets and the families that experienced loss; print materials, including a parent and caregiver guide; a children's storybook; and a facilitator's guide to using the project's components.
The materials will be available online at sesamestreet.org/grief beginning April 15. A customized military family kit also will be available through Military OneSource, http://militaryonesource.com, beginning April 21.
"When Families Grieve" is a continuation of Sesame Workshop's "Talk, Listen, Connect" outreach initiative, which was launched in 2006 to provide resources and emotional support to military families with young children coping with challenging transitions, including deployments and combat-related injuries.