USO brings ‘Sesame Street’ to Fort Meade to help military kids adapt to change

Katie, a “Sesame Street” character who is a child of a military family, greets children during one of two free performances of the Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families on Sept. 27, 2016, at Murphy Field House. (Photo by Steve Ruark)

Beloved “Sesame Street” Muppets Elmo, Grover, Cookie Monster and Rosita introduced the Fort Meade community to Katie, a military child character, during the Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families.

The show was presented in two free performances on Tuesday afternoon at Murphy Field House.

Over 300 children and parents lined up to see Katie and her “Sesame Street” friends talk about the challenges of change as a military child. As families entered the building, they were given American flag bandannas and a spinning, light-up Elmo toy.

One of the main themes of the show was the importance of family.

“With my USO family, my military family and my family family, I think I’m going to be OK,” Katie said after talking about how to cope with change and transition with the rest of the “Sesame Street” gang.

During the show, Katie told Elmo and Cookie Monster that she’s scared of change. They reassuringly told her that she is not alone and that they’ll always have her back.

The Sesame Street/USO show has been running since 2008 and is the longest running entertainment tour in USO history, according to USO.org. The six-month tour travels to military installations and performs free shows about the unique challenges military families face.

Nicole McClendon is going on her fourth year as tour manager.

“We’re spreading happiness from base to base,” said McClendon, who has family members and friends in the military. “This show is like a singing, dancing thank you card for our military. Kids walk away having learned something without knowing it, and parents can pick up talking points.”

Sesame Street/USO playfully addresses challenging thoughts and feelings military youth might have during a move to a new installation and school.

“It’s important to let the youngest military family members know that we’re here for them,” McClendon said. “We care about them.”

Last year, Sesame Street/USO launched a new production about transition from military to civilian life, in addition to its original show about moving. The shows performed at Fort Meade were about that transition.

However, from the dancing Muppets, twirling lights and clapping children, the show easily addressed the challenges of change and transition in just 40 minutes.

“We hope that we can give [military families] an afternoon of fun,” McClendon said. “Hopefully, they leave with some great memories.”

Lindsay Myers, an administrative assistant at Child, Youth and School Services and a volunteer for the event, helped find hotels for the staff and performers, rounded up volunteers and set up the stage for the event.

Myers and her husband, Staff Sgt. Anthony Myers, took their children to the 2014 show and found the story relatable.

“As someone who is a military spouse, these topics are familiar to me,” Myers said. “The reality of kids having to move, transition and deal with deployments — this makes it fun.”

Retired Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Donna Lopez, a USO volunteer, helped guide children and their parents toward floor space in front of the makeshift stage.

“It’s always good to give back to children and the military,” she said.

Air Force Staff Sgt. Kelia Bemley brought her daughter Madisyn to the performance because of the youngster’s love for Elmo¸ but left thinking about the show’s message.

“It’s nice that [the production] reiterates that friends and family are so important,” Bemley said. “My husband, Senior Chief Michael Bemley, is in the Navy so it’s good this show is talking to children about how to deal with certain issues.”

The popular show serves as a reminder that while moving to a new installation can be tough, other children are going through the same process and everyone is looking to make new friends.

Eleven-year old Jeremy Amaya, whose favorite character is Cookie Monster, related to the show’s message.

“I like that they were talking about moving,” he said. “They showed how it feels when things change.”

For Jeremy’s mother Rebeca, wife of Air Force Tech. Sgt. Gerson Amaya, the theme of the show was perfect.

“We’re moving tomorrow,” she said. “So it was really good for the kids to see a show [about moving].”

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