Among the many reassuring messages that young children heard on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood during its decades on PBS, host and producer Fred Rogers encouraged his viewers to “look for the helpers” whenever they saw news coverage of scary events.
WUCF in Orlando, Fla., has adopted this philosophy in its response to mass shootings and natural disasters that have affected its community.
To help children cope with these traumatic experiences, WUCF is producing a new video series, “Meet the Helpers,” which aims to familiarize children with emergency responders, such as firefighters and doctors, according to Jennifer Cook, WUCF Director of Communications.
The initiative began after the 2016 Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando. Since the station doesn’t operate a newsroom, WUCF decided to become a “hub of the helpers.” It created spots and online content advising community members about where to receive or provide help in response to the event, Cook said.
The conversation quickly shifted. Within 24 hours, the station began receiving questions on how to explain the event to kids and help them cope with their fears.
“We started getting a lot of questions … saying, ‘That’s great and we love this, but how do I talk to my kids about this shooting?’” Cook said. “That sparked us to think about it differently as well.” The station reached out to educators for advice on how parents and teachers can talk to children about traumatic events.
Working with Judith Levin, a professor and expert in early childhood development and education at the University of Central Florida, and other community organizations, the station developed a series of interstitials that introduce common “helpers” to kids, according to Catherine Hiles, manager of education and community engagement.
Based on Levin’s insights, the initiative is structured around the importance of giving kids an opportunity “to meet these helpers in a safe environment before something traumatic happens,” Hiles said. After receiving these messages when they feel safe and secure, children are more likely to feel less anxious about accepting assistance during times of emergency.
Videos now in production also feature a sheriff’s deputy, a teacher, a meteorologist, a 911 operator and an emergency medical technician. Each “helper” appears separately in spots that run during program breaks and as streaming videos posted on WUCF’s website, according to Cook. WUCF is also sharing the videos on social media platforms.