Sesame Street, USO bring Muppets to Stuttgart

Dealing with change and making new friends — military children know all too well about the anxiety that often comes with relocating to a new place.

That’s probably why the fears and excitement of Katie, a 6-year-old child facing a transfer to a new base due to her dad’s new military assignment, resonated with those who attended one of the three performances of the Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families held Aug. 13 and 14 in the Patch Fitness Center.
Katie, a Sesame Street character designed exclusively for the free, traveling United Services Organization tour, struck a chord with Amani Gibbs, 9, who was among the nearly 1,170 people who attended the three shows held recently in the U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart community. Two shows were held on Saturday and one show on Sunday.

“It was really fun,” said Gibbs, who attended the first of two shows on Saturday with mother Sariah, father Sean, younger brother Tariq and baby sister Saniya. “I liked the part where Katie found out she was going to move to a new base and the song she sang about being happy about new experiences. It’s OK to be nervous when you’re just getting somewhere or leaving.”

Lonnie Cooper, USO tour manager, said Katie’s Sesame Street pals — characters Cookie Monster, Elmo, Grover and Rosita — help the military child understand how to keep old friends and make new ones.

“The other characters help Katie, suggesting she e-mail and write letters to her friends she’s leaving behind and step up and say hello as the new kid at her new base,” Cooper said of the half-hour performance filled with high-energy songs and dance moves. “The kids recognize themselves in her character — laughing, clapping, singing and dancing.”

One of the local organizers of the USAG Stuttgart performances, Adria Williamson, said she hoped the youngsters in attendance truly understood that they are not alone as military children.

“For the toddlers and preschoolers, it was more a means of entertainment,” said Williamson, facility director of Kelley School Age Services. “But for those who were old enough to understand, I truly feel that the show gave them someone to relate to. Many of the parents said they were thankful for the opportunity because it was a free show and a chance for families to do something enjoyable and fun.”

In addition to the performance, there were giveaways for attendees. Among the goodies were red, white and blue USO bandanas, magnets, Elmo twirly lights, note pads, Picture Me books and the Talk, Listen, Connect DVD series that uses Sesame Street characters to explain issues including deployment to youngsters.

The show was a fun outing for Melissa Kerwood and her 17-month-old son Evan Eugene. Kerwood said her 5-year-old son John William opted to stay home with his father — recently returned from temporary duty — instead of attending the show.
“John William attended the show here two years ago and loved the DVD we got, which he watched with his daddy,” Kerwood said. “The [DVD’s] message is that if mommy and daddy have to go away, it doesn’t mean that they don’t love you. He understands what his daddy does, why he leaves and he knows how to count the days until he returns.”

The current Sesame Street/USO tour kicked off in Alaska in late April and is scheduled to wrap up in Japan in November. The tour is expected to deliver nearly 150 shows on about 60 bases in Alaska, Hawaii, Guam, Korea, Turkey, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, the United Kingdom, Spain and Japan.