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In the Neighborhood with Mister Rogers—Look for the helpers


When Dawn Cretney from the UK sought in “Ask the Community” section of ACEs Connection practical advice and support for parents and teachers to help children and young people affected by the Manchester terror attack, she referenced the wisdom of “look for the helpers” as did writer Anthony Breznican in his touching tribute to Mister Rogers on the PBS News Hour Friday night. I’ve come late to the fan base of Fred Rogers but fortunately, there is still time left to impart my new appreciation to my grandchildren and as noted by News Hour host Hari Sreenivasan “Thank goodness for reruns.”

For those of you like me who were not followers of Mister Rogers, he often mentioned that when he was scared or had seen something awful, his mother would tell him to look for the helpers. Breznican said that he thought of this wisdom on the night of the Manchester bombing—for the hurting to “look for the helpers, find hope among the helpers, the people who are rushing in to save those who are hurting.”

Breznican recalled how he tuned into Mister Rogers’ song “won’t you be my neighbor” coming down a dorm hallway soon after his grandfather—a steady constant in his life and a positive influence when there weren’t many—died and left him devastated. He felt the show was profound—not a kid’s show.

And then just two weeks later in a chance encounter, Breznican met Fred Rogers in a school elevator and recalls the experience (if you have a 3 ½ minutes, I highly recommend watching):

I turned around and said, like: “Look, I just want to tell you how much you mean to me.”

And he said — he didn’t say like, thank you, I appreciate that or anything. He was just like: “Oh, did you grow up as one of my television neighbors?”

And just the way he said it was so sweet.

And I was like, “Yes, yes, I was your neighbor.”

And he gives — opens his arms and he is like, “It’s great to see you again, neighbor,” and he just gives me this big hug.

And it felt so wonderful to meet him, but also to literally be embraced by Mr. Rogers, this kind man.

And he sat down and he said, “Would you like to tell me what it was that was upsetting you?”

And just the say he said that, too, is so indicative of Mr. Rogers. He didn’t say, oh, what was bothering you? He said, “Would you like to tell me?”

And I did. And it helped so much just to have someone to talk to. It wasn’t just a persona that he put on for this program.

The program grafted itself onto his personality, his real soul, his real heart.

So my pledge in honor of Mister Rogers (and all the other people who are trauma-informed without necessarily knowing it) is to be both a helper and seek help when I need it.

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