Reporting tragic and sobering stories can wear down a writer. CT associate editor Wendy Zoba says she was "emotionally drained" after she finished writing her article on how the Columbine High School tragedy changed America ("Do You Believe in God?" Oct. 4, 1999). Last year we also published Wendy's articles on the disastrous effects of a hurricane on missionaries in Honduras, the fierce pressures facing Ethiopian Christians, and Christian investigators who expose the abduction and enslavement of helpless people in developing countries. No wonder she was emotionally drained. While Wendy was in that state of exhaustion, she spotted a small photograph of Fred "Mister" Rogers in a magazine. Dying for a change of pace, she proposed the piece that appears as this issue's cover story (see "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" on page 38). Mister Rogers was an upbeat topic and a tonic for Wendy's soul. What she encountered on her trip to his neighborhood was a man of grace and humility who has a strong sense of being called by God and a deep belief that his television show is a ministry."There is nothing pretentious about him or his setting or the people with him," Wendy reports. The Pittsburgh headquarters of Rogers' organization is modest and cramped. The conference room is small. And the star of the show eats his lunch from a brown paper bag.To most of us, Mister Rogers' Neighborhood is a wonderful television show for children. Fred Rogers reached beyond the television set to write a book for parents (Mister Rogers Talks with Parents, 1993) that, says Wendy, affirms parents in their difficult role, "giving them the same feeling he gives to kids."But the reach of Family Communications Inc., the producer of the television show, is still broader and deeper. A quick tour of its Web site (www.fci.org) reveals a rich array of resources for childcare workers, teachers, and parents.The site lists pamphlets dealing with toilet accidents, mealtime problems, sharing, and bedtime struggles. There is a free newsletter ("Around the Neighborhood"), videotaped workshops, and a library of classic Neighborhood episodes that address key early childhood concerns.There's even information on arranging for speakers from the Neighborhood. Mister Rogers is too busy to travel, but both David Newell ("Mister McFeely") and associate producer Hedda Sharapan do sally forth to "speak for Fred."The bulk of the material seems oriented to childcare providers, but it is clear that anyone who works with young children can benefit from the program's extended ministry.What's next on Wendy's agenda? Some more heavy-duty stuff.In our next issue, Wendy reports on the rapid expansion of Islam, both globally and in North America. And in the same issue she will report on her recent contacts with the families of Columbine High School students. A year after the massacre, they still have more questions than answers, and their frustration level with the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department is high. Further down the list is an article on the changing role of women missionaries.Wendy never shies away from covering a tough story, so we expect to see a lot of her solid and emotionally charged reporting in 2000. But we suspect we may not soon see from her pen another piece as heartwarming and inspiring as this issue's portrait of the friendly face of Fred Rogers.
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