On the set of Sesame Street
The Van Walraven family poses on the set of the children's television program "Sesame Street" with muppet star Elmo. The family was invited to New York City by the producers to participate in "Families Stand Together: Feeling Secure in Tough Times," a program about dealing with financial crisis. The special premiers on PBS Sept. 9 at 8 p.m.

USAG MIAMI Aca,!" A U.S. Southern Command family travelled to the Big Apple recently to participate in the filming of Aca,!A"Families Stand Together: Feeling Secure in Tough TimesAca,!A? a Sesame Street special premiering on PBS Sept. 9 at 8 p.m.

The special will be hosted by Al Roker, Deborah Roberts of ABCAca,!a,,cs 20/20 and Elmo. It aims to help families with children, age two to eight, experiencing difficult economic circumstances. It offers strategies and tips that can lead to positive outcomes for their childrenAca,!a,,cs physical and emotional well-being during this tough economic climate.

TSgt Brandon Van Walraven, an intelligence analyst with SOUTHCOM, was interviewed with his family at their home in South Florida and finished up on the set of Sesame Street in New York City. The show focuses on the financial challenges Aca,!" and solutions Aca,!" of the four families invited, plus ElmoAca,!a,,cs family.

Aca,!A"When we moved here, we experienced some severe financial difficulties,Aca,!A? Van Walraven said. Aca,!A"We had to borrow money from family for rent and had other money tied up. We had depleted all of our savings and were living paycheck to paycheck.Aca,!A?

The special focuses on tough economic times, but the message applies to any difficult situation, said Van Walraven. Aca,!A"In the military, the meaning has an even wider context because we go through things that other families do not,Aca,!A? Van Walraven said.

Deployments, long separations, PCSing and extended TDYs are stressors all military families face.

Aca,!A"We all were facing a difficult time for different reasons. Our family was selected not just because of the struggles we were having but because of the strategies we used to face it,Aca,!A? he said.

The families were asked to share those strategies with the special guests and Jean Chatzky, a financial advisor.

The Van Walravens shared what they taught their kids about saving and frugal spending. Together, they came up with a budget, gave the kids chores that they were paid for, and explained their part of the budget and the need to help mom and dad spend money wisely. Aca,!A"We started doing things on a tight budget,Aca,!A? he said.

Family movie night replaced going out to the mall, included popping popcorn together and setting out special treats like juice.

Aca,!A"Soon the kids were looking forward to Friday night, and it cost us a fraction of going outAca,!A? Van Walraven said.

The family started looking for things to do as a family that didnAca,!a,,ct cost money, like going to the beach or playing in the park. They also shop in bulk, do all the shopping in one trip, rather than running back and forth to the store. Van Walraven brings lunch from home every day and rides the van pool instead of driving.

Aca,!A"It seems like a bunch of small things, but it adds up,Aca,!A? he said.

Being frugal also had rewards for the family.

Aca,!A"We are a much tighter knit family now. We rely on one another more. Our kids started appreciating the smaller things in life,Aca,!A? he said. Aca,!A"They stopped asking for the extravagant things they see on TV Aca,!" the $15, $20, $25 toys Aca,!" and started appreciating what they had already. They started playing together and getting along more than they are used to as well.Aca,!A?

While in New York, Van Walraven said he got some good advice from Chatzky about retirement planning.

Aca,!A"I asked her about different strategies to set money aside for retirement, saving money for education for the kids,Aca,!A? he said. Aca,!A"We donAca,!a,,ct have a lot to put aside, but there are ways to get around that by cutting something here and there.Aca,!A?

Families around the country are facing job losses and pay cuts, and are struggling to meet the cost of their basic needs, from housing, medical care, and transportation to food, clothing, and child care.

These struggles not only challenge the parents who must tighten their budgets, but also can have significant effect on their childrenAca,!a,,cs physical and emotional well-being.

One of the main points for the Van Walraven family was the constant moving in the military.

Aca,!A"In and of itself, a PCS is difficult; a financial hard time just makes it harder. Working together as a family is crucial,Aca,!A? he said. Aca,!A"If you donAca,!a,,ct talk about it and prep for it, it can cause a lot of stress.Aca,!A?

Military families face these situations almost on an annual basis, Van Walraven said. Aca,!A"We can be deployed and that is a stressful thing for a family to be in. This special, along with the other specials Sesame Street has put out on separations and coming back home, makes a pretty good package for teaching military families how to get through those situations.Aca,!A?

Meeting and befriending the other families on the program gave Van Walraven an appreciation for his situation.

Aca,!A"They were also facing financial crises for different reasons, one was losing a home, in another both parents had lost their jobs,Aca,!A? he said. Aca,!A"I almost felt bad because it seemed like our struggles werenAca,!a,,ct as tough as theirs, but I realized they are just different.Aca,!A?

Aca,!A"I feel lucky; being part of the military has been a huge blessing for me and my family. WeAca,!a,,cre not going without food, or a home. As tough as things are, the benefits have made a huge difference in our lives.Aca,!A?

For the kids, the highlight wasnAca,!a,,ct the sound financial advice, but meeting Elmo.

Aca,!A"The look on my kidsAca,!a,,c faces when they talked to Elmo and Grover was something I definitely wonAca,!a,,ct forget,Aca,!A? he said. Aca,!A"This experience has been one of the most unforgettable in my life, and I feel privileged to represent SOUTHCOM and the military on this show. Sesame Street put together something very special with this program.Aca,!A?

Aca,!A"Families Stand Together: Feeling Secure in Tough TimesAca,!A? is produced by Sesame Street in association with David LettermanAca,!a,,cs production company Worldwide Pants Incorporated and Lookalike Productions. In addition to the Sept. 9 premiere, it will be distributed on DVD as a Sesame Street special.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16