One of the most popular Mr. Rogers memes is one that frequently pops up when something unimaginable happens. You know the quote. “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
Local Baltimore dad Danny LaBrecque is one of those helpers. His web series Danny Joe’s Tree House uses a simplistic set and narrative framework similar to the retro Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood episodes we all grew up on; but his messaging aims to help young kids navigate modern society. The goal? To foster social-emotional learning in the digital age by bringing a human voice — and voices — back to children’s media.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t an element of whimsy in Danny’s productions. The set is a charming tree house. Puppets are used to help children naturally project their feelings and emotions. But Danny doesn’t pretend to be anyone other than a real life person when he appears on the show as Danny Joe. There is no animation. Guests on the show are real-life caregivers from Baltimore. (You might recognize Baltimore Dads Jamaal Collier and Max Bent of Baby Beats with Max and Root in this Tree House episode… Or maybe you know Erricka Bridgeford, creator ofBaltimore Ceasefire 365, who appeared on this episode…)
What kind of topics are explored in the Tree House? In the “Make a Wish” episode, Danny Joe, viewers ,and Adam Candelaria of Holistic Life, Inc., investigate how “mistakes” or “failures” can be opportunities for creative, academic and emotional growth. But Danny also tackles tough topics — like secondary experiences with gun violence, abuse, racism or discrimination — purposefully and thoughtfully with preschoolers in mind. Each show has parenting resources and live chats to help parents further explore each show’s topic at home, too. All of this is done from a modest studio set-up in Danny’s Hampden home.
In addition to Danny Joe’s Tree House, Danny also serves as an early educator with a focus on relationship building, offering therapeutic puppetry programs in Baltimore City schools through Holistic Life Foundation, Head Start and The Ark Preschool (the only accredited preschool in Baltimore for children experiencing homelessness).
In short, he is the very definition of one of Mr. Rogers’ helpers.
A recent Kickstarter campaign is helping Danny ‘save the puppets.’ The campaign recently met a $3,500 fundraising goal that will allow Danny to use digital imaging and remake the 4 lb. puppets used on the show (that’s a lot balancing on the end of of a finger!). Puppets like Teddy, Danny’s actual childhood teddy bear. Or King, an authoritarian ruler who believes that the sky, land and sea is just for him. He “regularly proclaims “I’m the Boss of You!” without compromise or consideration of his royal subjects. On Tree House, they know that there is always a root cause for socially unacceptable behavior and King (unintentionally) offers an opportunity to the members of their shared community to stand up for themselves without hurting other or self.” (You can meet more the puppets on Danny Joe’s Treehouse website.)
There is one week left in the Kickstarter Campaign and although the initial goal was met, there is a stretch goal to help keep original puppets in tact, not just remake parts of them. You can read more — and lend your support — here.