Counting on Transylvania

Two of these children’s advocates are not like the others … the Count and Abby, on loan from Sesame Street Inc., recently made star cameos to announce a groundbreaking program.
Photo by Paul Stebner

This Halloween, the inevitable finally happened: Count Von Count came to Transylvania County. At Halloweenfest 2018, Sesame Street in Communities and Transylvania County’s Get Set program celebrated their new collaboration. The two organizations — one national and one intensely local — are working to develop new ways to support Transylvania County’s 1,500 children between the ages of 0-5, and their families as well. 

And the Count is key. “Halloweenfest is special to our county because of our name,” says Jaime Laughter, Transylvania County Manager and co-founder of the Transylvania County Early Childhood Initiative, now called Get Set Transylvania. “But it’s even more so the appropriate place to launch the Sesame Street partnership and have the Count come home to Transylvania County.”

In 2015, Laughter and Transylvania County Commissioner Paige Lemel gathered everyone they could think of who serves young children and their families — from schools to county government, the health department, local dentists, and community organizations of all stripes. The group has worked to connect families with each other and with services and resources. Ongoing projects include a monthly dinner series with food and childcare provided, partnerships that address health and dental concerns, and a kindergarten-readiness rally.

The story of Get Set Transylvania has been full of happy accidents. Like the time Lemel, who was presenting an event at NC State’s Institute for Emerging Issues, boarded a bus with a presenter for Sesame Street in Communities. That organization provides Sesame Street-themed materials to help children grow and learn through all sorts of life events, from everyday issues like nutrition and literacy, to tougher topics like food insecurity and divorce. That day, Lemel noted that Sesame Street’s existing partners were urban, and she used the time to talk with the presenter about Transylvania County’s unique challenges as a rural county. 

“After that conference,” Laughter says, “we got a call from Sesame Street saying they were intrigued.” The conference was this February, and by May, Sesame Street employees visited Transylvania County. “They liked the work we’re doing … and we immediately began talks about what the partnership will look like and how quickly we can launch this for our community and start making a difference.” 

In the months ahead, Get Set Transylvania will be enriching their projects with a Sesame Street theme. Laughter speaks with conviction about Sesame Street programs the county is already using for children dealing with natural disasters. In the case of one pressing need in the county, she says, “We’ll take the Sesame Street resources and we’ll marry them with local resources around dental care so parents know where they can receive care and what resources are available.”

She details plans to work with Sesame Street in a project to provide materials designed to lessen children’s trauma in adult spaces like court, creating “comfy-cozy spaces” with kid-sized chairs and other objects designed to welcome and comfort. As one of Sesame Street’s first crop of partner communities, the two organizations will be envisioning new ways to reach families that have not yet heard of the project, but who could benefit from its components. 

“It’s an opportunity to work collectively within our community across agencies to improve the lives of children”, Laughter says. “If Transylvania County is a great place to be zero to five [years old], then it’s a great place to be forever.” 

To learn more about Get Set Transylvania, to see a full list of partners, or to sign up your family to receive materials, visit getset-tc.org.

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