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Sesame Street not kidding at Erasing the Stigma Leadership Awards
The Sesame Street folks, who have taught and entertained kids with the help of Big Bird, Cookie Monster, and my favorite Oscar the Grouch for several generations, gave me a real education during the 2010 Erasing the Stigma Leadership luncheon. It was an event sponsored by the Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services to applaud efforts of advocates helping to dispel myths and prejudices about mental illness. How did the Sesame Street production fit into that kind of gathering? Well, I learned that the theme of this year’s event was youth. And it was explained that fifty percent of all mental disorders emerge by the age of 14, seventy five percent by 25. But most suffer for ten or more years before they get help. Ten years of unnecessary heartache. In addition to directly helping individuals, the Didi Hirsch organization tries to advance the public’s understanding of mental illness. They try to erase the stigma so youngsters will seek help early on and get support. Whether the subject is people coping with fear, loss, lack of hope or dealing with disease or disaster, for 41 years Sesame Workshop has helped families talk and pull together during hard times, via PBS’ much-loved Sesame Street series, TV specials, and global outreach programs. An “Erasing the Stigma Media Award” was presented to Gary Knell, president and CEO of the Sesame Workshop. He’s a fellow who spoke passionately about his work. Under Knell’s leadership, bilingual multimedia initiatives have been developed that use the power of Sesame Street’s characters to help families deal with stress and address things that may cause children to worry. Sensitive subjects such as September 11th, hurricane Katrina, unemployment, war and other problems from the last decade have been covered. Of special note is the “Talk, Listen Connect” project that has been ongoing since 2006. It has helped millions of military families cope with the suffering caused by deployments, homecomings and injuries. It’s something adults find difficult to handle, let alone asking children to understand and cope with these problems. It’s a lot to ask of a children’s show, but Sesame Street and the Sesame Workshop is there helping kids. Knell says his mission is to maximize the educational power of all media to help children reach their highest potential. That’s far from child’s play.