Chesterfield campaign teams up with ‘Sesame Street’ to raise autism awareness

This image released by Sesame Workshop shows Julia, a new autistic muppet character debuting on the 47th Season of "Sesame Street," on April 10, 2017, on both PBS and HBO. (Zach Hyman/Sesame Workshop via AP)

CHESTERFIELD, Va. (WRIC) — A Chesterfield-based campaign that champions for the special needs community is celebrating Autism Awareness Month in April with a national connection.

Project: Just Like You (PJLY) is now highlighting Julia, the new character with autism on Sesame Street.

Sesame Street creators have said they are aiming to increase awareness and understanding about the condition with Julia, while decreasing discrimination and bullying.

“It was incredible to have exclusive interviews with both the puppeteer, Stacey Gordon, and Dr. Jeanette Betancourt, who was the brainchild behind the creation of Julia,” says PJLY Founder, Molly Korte. “Both of these women are true advocates at heart, and to connect with them and see the world through Julia’s eyes was incredible!”

Korte started PJLY shortly after her son Jacob was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder last summer when he was 16-months-old.

Using social media, she features special needs children and adults in their element. Korte’s pages include short biographies and photos of special moments with friends and family as they smile, laugh and love life.

She followed the same formula for Julia’s profile.

“Everyone can relate to the muppets on Sesame Street,” explains Korte. “The muppets break through the barriers of religion, race, age, and all dividing factors. They take a controversial subject, and present it in a way that creates peaceful dialogue.”

Korte adds, “Julia is a perfect feature for the month of April. Julia will help tear down prejudices around the world. It is quite thrilling and exciting to feature her.”

Korte introduces someone new to PJLY followers five times a week, and she says they will notice similarities between children and adults on the site and the special muppet developed by Gordon and Dr. Betancourt.

“These women and the team behind Julia want her and every child out there to be seen as just an everyday child. Once the stigma is taken out of a diagnosis, you are left with the person,” says Korte. “This mind frame brings about inclusion. When we see the person for who they are, we can relate to them on a personal level. When this happens, a friendship begins. The path to acceptance and inclusion is what both of us are working towards

It is a mission that parallels that of PJLY: that people are simply people.

“We all enjoy similar activities. When we focus on what we have in common, we decrease bullying, crush fear, and focus on kindness.”

To read more about Julia or learn more about PJLY, follow this link.

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