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Community leaders hear call to action for Sesame Street in Communities initiative


Iowa’s human services and health director got some face time Wednesday with one of Sesame Street’s most beloved Muppets, Grover. 

Kelly Garcia, director of the Iowa Department of Human Services and interim director of the Iowa Department of Health, helped Grover — who was frustrated about not being able to find his hat to wear for the video — to talk about his feelings with some help from Teree Caldwell-Johnson, CEO of Oakridge Neighborhood. The skit played out not on television but on a live videoconference call aimed at introducing the new Sesame Street in Communities initiative to Central Iowa. 

More than 300 community leaders carved out an hour from their schedules for the live Iowa Town Hall with Sesame Workshop. Jay Byers, CEO of the Greater Des Moines Partnership, and Angela Franklin, president of Des Moines University, were among several community and state leaders who joined Sesame Workshop leaders for a panel discussion highlighting the initiative’s importance. 

In October, the newly formed Iowa Alliance for Healthy Kids announced that Central Iowa was chosen to partner with Sesame Workshop to roll out Sesame Street in the Community to Central Iowa. The initiative, funded by a $500,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, aims to provide new tools for local communities in Iowa to strengthen children’s social-emotional development. 

“Supporting young kids’ social-emotional well-being is critical as the pandemic has disrupted routines, caused intense emotions, and reduced social interactions for young kids,” said Suzanne Mineck, president of Mid-Iowa Health Foundation, which formed the partnership with Sesame Workshop and is a member of the alliance.

“We must intentionally invest in supporting families and helping young kids thrive through this challenging time, so we can mitigate the costly long-term health, mental health and workforce challenges that could arise from this crisis,” Mineck said. “Sesame Street in Communities is a critical partner in these efforts.”

Providing better ways for communities to help kids to talk about and cope with their feelings is an important aspect of the social-emotional development that Sesame Street in the Community promotes, as Grover helped demonstrate in a conversation with Garcia and Caldwell-Johnson during the videoconference.  

Jeanette Betancourt, senior vice president for U.S. social impact with Sesame Workshop, was among the Sesame Workshop leaders on the call, with Rochelle Haynes, Sesame Workshop vice president for U.S. social impact, with whom Mineck initially connected to bring the program to Iowa. 

“We’re proud to partner with the Kellogg Foundation and the Iowa Alliance for Healthy Kids to bring Sesame Street in Communities to Central Iowa, a community that cares deeply about giving young children the best start in life,” Betancourt said. “With the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s more important than ever to establish a foundation for building resilience from a young age and equip families with the tools they need to overcome the challenges of today and thrive into the future.”

Over the coming months, Sesame Workshop and the Iowa Alliance will work together to embed Sesame Street in Communities into programs serving children across Central Iowa and raise awareness of the importance of investing in children’s early years. Key activities include: 

• Training for hundreds of providers, parents and caregivers on topics including traumatic experiences, building resilience, exploring emotions, handling tantrums and offering comfort.
•  Integration of Sesame Street in Communities materials and resources through Iowa’s provider networks, including distributing 50,000 Comfy-Cozy Nest books and a newly created activity book for the initiative. 
• Increased awareness of the Sesame Street in Communities resources and the importance of social-emotional well-being for children’s healthy development through public awareness activities. 
• Evaluation of the program’s impact to identify successful messages and strategies that can be applied statewide.

“We encourage you to identify your ‘why’ in supporting this initiative,” Mineck told leaders on the call. As the Partnership’s Byers said during the panel discussion, talent development for Greater Des Moines’ workforce begins at an early age, and business leaders are recognizing the importance of the “Pre-K through career” connection. 

Sesame Workshop’s Haynes challenged participants with a call to action: “Think about how you can help to further the message,” she said. “How do we infuse social-emotional development into all the systems in the state?” 

See more information about the Iowa Alliance for Healthy Kids and ways to get involved with the Sesame Street in Communities initiative in Iowa.

To access a replay of Wednesday’s town hall videoconference, click here.

Read a Business Record article about the initiative and how it began

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