Can You Tell Me How To Get. . .

 

Most of us can hum the tune or sing the theme song to Sesame Street.  Whether we ourselves  grew up watching the show, or were the parents, caregivers, or teachers of young children who watched the show, we were familiar with the question “Can you tell me how to get to Sesame Street?” Getting to Sesame Street meant that something good and exciting would happen.  Cookie Monster, Elmo, Burt, Ernie, Big Bird, and my favorite Kermit the Frog, then and now, provide valuable age appropriate life lessons to assist children coping with all types of situations.  Sesame Street’s reputation is one to teach and share information in supportive, thoughtful, and often fun ways.  Their mission is helping “kids everywhere grow smarter, stronger, and kinder.” What continues to be encouraging is the way Sesame Street remains relevant in its subject matter and development of characters; most recently Lily, a child experiencing homelessness.

 A recent webinar sponsored by Sesame Street’s National Initiative on Family Homelessness, and SchoolHouse Connection, an organization that supports the education of children experiencing homelessness from infancy through college highlighted the importance of recognizing and addressing the educational, emotional and psychological needs of children experiencing homelessness.  SchoolHouse Connection, like Sesame Street, is committed to the well-being of children and youth, and view education as key to ending and stopping generational homelessness.  Barbara Duffield, executive director at SchoolHouse Connection said it best, “Homelessness is trauma . . . on top of trauma . . .on top of trauma.” There is the trauma that brings us to it,  there is the trauma of loss, there is trauma while in it, and the trauma having experienced it.  When children and youth experience homelessness obstacles are created to learning, physical and mental health are jeopardized, and interactions with others become challenging. 

In 2017, “Housing and Hope for Every Child: A Look at Childhood Homelessness and Parenting” a film and discussion series developed by HerStory Ensemble, was presented at libraries in the State of Delaware during National Homelessness Awareness Month.  The series focused on young Chris Gardner, the child in the film “the Pursuit of Happyness” as he and his dad navigated not having permanent housing.   Like the Sesame Street initiative, stigma, stereotypes and myths about homelessness, and the impact of adverse childhood experiences (ACE’s), such as homelessness were explored.  The recent webinar reminded us that one in thirty children go to sleep each night in the U.S. without a home of their own, and the majority are under the age of six.  Like many children identified as homeless, the Sesame Street character Lily has lived in a motel, shelter, with relatives and with friends.  Through Lily and Chris, Jr. we understand family homelessness and it’s emerging issues in real, similar, and different ways.

Utilizing an approach known as the Circle of Care, Sesame Street redefining “home” beyond a physical place helps children to see home as anywhere they have a sense of feeling nurtured, loved, and safe.   Home is also defined in the ways that those feelings are generated. The Circle of Care is comprised of parents, caregivers, service providers, educators, and members of the community. Lily helps children experiencing homelessness learn that being homeless is not their fault, that it is a temporary situation, and that it is not their problem or responsibility to solve.  Lily helps adults gain awareness and understanding of the impact the trauma of homelessness can have on children.  Sesame Street’s National Initiative on Family Homelessness free and bilingual resources tell us how to get the needs of children experiencing homelessness met. To learn more about Sesame Street in Communities visit www.sesamestreetincommunities.org.  For more information about the work of SchoolHouse Connection with children, youth, and family homelessness visit www.schoolhouseconnection.org.

DeBorah Gilbert White