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Sesame Rooms: A Bright New Project for Talk, Listen, Connect


McGuire AFB, Sesame Workshop, and Jonathan Adler teams in the new "Sesamized" Room after a long day of work.


Sesame Workshop has been reaching out to military families since the 2006 launch of its Talk, Listen, Connect initiative, and now its latest project, Sesame Rooms, has unveiled a campaign designed to brighten up military spaces for kids with the kind of Sesame cheer only the Muppets can deliver.

“There are many rooms where military children visit and play that are in need of a little "Sesamization," says Lynn Chwatsky, Senior Director for Outreach Initiatives and Partners at Sesame Workshop. “We want to revamp some rooms and create a fun, safe place for these kids that can also bring joy and happiness. We'll be sending a ‘room in a box’ full of some great things such as Sesame toys, games, furniture, wall decor, videos and books, so these spaces can get a real Sesame feel.”

 

 

BEFORE PHOTO:
The PAX Terminal Family Lounge at
McGuire Air Force Base.
AFTER PHOTO:
The PAX Terminal's new "Sesamized"
Family Lounge at McGuire AFB.


Sesame Workshop and its partners — with the help of designer Jonathan Adler — designed a flagship Sesame Room at McGuire Air Force Base outside Trenton, New Jersey. The location was picked because the Keefers, a family that was featured on the December 2006 Talk, Listen, Connect special “When Parents Are Deployed,” were stationed there. On June 29, 2009, Christina Keefer and her children, Sara, 10, and Jaxon, 7, were on hand at the ribbon-cutting ceremony in honor of Staff Sergeant Jason Keefer, who lost his battle with cancer in January.


Accompanied by her children Sarah and Jaxon, Chrissi Keefer cuts the ceremonial ribbon to officially open the Sesame Room at McGuire AFB, which is dedicated in honor of her husband, Staff Sgt. Jason E. Keefer.

“When I cut the ribbon that day I felt like some healing had taken place in my life,” Mrs. Keefer says. “Almost like I turned a corner in my grief. Yes, it was hard, but I realize that even though he is gone, his name will live on in that room that so many people will enjoy. Some happiness will result from the sadness of his death. Some good came out of something so tragic.



Jaxon Keefer and Elmo talk, play, and connect in the new Sesame Room, which is dedicated in memory of Jaxon's father, Staff Sgt. Jason E. Keefer.

 

“I watched the children’s faces as they came in to the room to play that day,” she continues. “They were smiling and happy looking at all the wonderful things in that room. It is happy and bright in there and just uplifts the spirit. In today’s world there are so many scary things and if a room like the Sesame Room is available to children to play in and enjoy themselves for a little while, then that is something that they will take with them wherever they go. It is a happy and safe place for them to be.”

The Sesame Rooms — each containing Muppet wall appliqu├ęs, a child’s table and chairs set, an Elmo ride-on toy, Oscar trash cans, a Cookie Monster clock, an Elmo restaurant set, a coloring easel, a Muppet welcome mat, stickers, posters, books and more — help establish safe, fun environments that encourage love, care and talk.



Aaron Malkowski rolls on the first coat of red paint to brighten up the room. Aaron is a stellar example of the enthusiastic volunteers from the McGuire/Fort Dix community who worked to transform the Family Lounge to a Sesame Room.

ROOM-IN-A-BOX

Colonel Gina M. Grosso, the 87th Air Base Wing commander at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., was the installation commander for the flagship room, which actually consists of four separate spaces. Colonel Grosso says she tried to pick a location on the basis of where it will do the most good and touch the biggest number of families.

“We have so many military families that sacrifice so much and never get recognized,” says Colonel Grosso. “The location that we picked — we estimate that about 40,000 people go through that terminal every year. And our guess is that somewhere between 10,000 and 15,000 family members go there per year. There’s just no way that we could have made a room so comfortable for kids. And Sesame Street has been able to do it. It was just so evident the day we did the ribbon cutting that the kids were just so excited! We had to put our hands up and ask them to wait. As soon as they got in the room

they just loved it.

“When you’re traveling a long way — which a lot of military families do — you can only imagine how stressful that is, especially with little kids,” Colonel Grosso continues. “They’ve been cooped up in an airplane for a long period of time. So just to go play in a Sesame Street room … you really can’t quantify the stress relief that that will give to military families. Just to have a little refuge — both for the moms, dads and the kids — in a place that’s so fun and inviting … you can’t measure the impact of that. It’s just beautiful.”

Colonel Grosso adds that while the country appreciates its military, the military families are often overlooked.

HEROES BEHIND THE SCENES 

“Those families are really the behind-the-scenes heroes,” she says. “They’re serving their country as well. And this country is better for their service. They probably don’t get the recognition they deserve. They’re always having to say goodbye.”

“My children and I feel extremely honored and touched that the flagship Sesame Room was dedicated to my husband and their father,” Mrs. Keefer says. “We are so very proud that his picture and name is up on the plaque in the room. It is a legacy for the children and I feel that everyone will know just how wonderful he was. The fact that he is remembered in the Sesame Room seems very fitting. Of course, the honor is bittersweet. We are very proud by the dedication, yet wish he was here to see it. I am sure he is smiling down upon it, though.”

All photos by Gil Vakin

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