JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. --
"5-4-3-2-1." Team Andrews families counted down the launch of a Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families at the base theater here May 13 and 14. The performances, brought to them by the USO, told the story of Katie, a military child who just found out she will be relocating to a new place with her family.
The character was created to help military children relate to and identify with sadness accompanied with leaving behind old friends, anxiety of making new friends and the excitement of starting over.
"My oldest son was five when we found out we were moving to Andrews," said Stephanie Wollard. She and her two boys, 7-year-old Zachary and 7-month-old Ethan, were among the more than 1,000 Team Andrews members who attended the shows. "He didn't want to move. He was content where he was; he had his friends, karate class, and my parents and sister in California. Moving away from my family was difficult for all of us."
The Wollard family is particularly familiar with the challenges associated with changing station. Andrews is their fifth assignment, and she said they will likely be moving again within a year.
"Every time we move, Zachary asked 'I don't know anybody, how am I going to meet people?'" Wollard said. "Being a home-schooling family makes it a little more difficult, because he doesn't have a classroom full of 30 kids who he can just go and befriend."
Luckily, there were several opportunities here for the Wollards to interact with the community.
"When we moved here, it was really nice to get involved with the Andrews Home Educators," she said. "At our last couple of assignments, we put him in sports, found play groups and met people at church."
Katie and her furry friends Elmo, Grover, Rosita and Cookie Monster helped Team Andrews children look for the upsides to of their future or recent moves, and also demonstrated different ways to say "hello" to the new people they will meet.
Tour Manager Nicole McClendon and her crew work hard to make a special connection with military children, and they have a lot of fun doing it.
"I like to think of our show as a live, singing and dancing thank you card that we take to all of our military families around the world," McClendon said. "We try to understand what military families are going through, and we want them to know that we'll be here for them."
The Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families seven month stateside tour began April 4 at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, and is slated to perform more than 200 shows at 69 bases by the end of October.
"The smiles on all the families' faces makes all of our work rewarding," McClendon said. "The tour has been going on since 2008, and the shows have delivered special family moments at 144 military bases in 33 states and 11 countries."
The tours also visit bases overseas "wherever there are military families," in addition to the wealth of other resources they offer, McClendon said.
"There are so many instances when the USO has been there for our family," Wollard said. "When my husband deployed, they were a huge help. We made recorded books for Zachary, and he could sit and watch daddy read him books while he was gone."
Wollard also expressed great appreciation for the USO at an airport in Frankfurt, Germany, when they traveled to meet her husband during his mid-tour leave.
"We really appreciate the USO," Wollard said. "They have been there for us through whatever circumstance we may have found ourselves in. It's been a really positive thing."
For more information about the resources available to military families, visit these links:
Sesame Workshop Homepage
Sesame Workshop Military Families Initiative
Military Families YouTube Playlist
USO's Every Moment Counts