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Won’t You Please Be My Neighbor?

Fred Rogers wasn’t an actor. The show came out of who he was — a communicator.

“There are three ways to ultimate success. The first way is to be kind. The second way is to be kind. The third way is to be kind. Imagine what our neighborhoods would be like if each of us offered, as a matter of course, just one kind word to another person.” - Fred McFeely Rogers

Even if they didn’t grow up watching the show, most people remember the Mr. Rogers theme song, “It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”. They can probably even hum it, at least the first two lines.

May will be a special month for Central Florida residents, especially those who grew up hearing this song. For a full week, people from all walks of life will celebrate Mister Rogers’ Week of Kindness. This series of educational and public events, inspired by the nationally known children’s television host and American icon, will take place from March 20-26 throughout the Orlando area. The slate of activities will be managed by local family-owned Buena Vista Events & Management (BVEM).

“Fred McFeely Rogers devoted his entire life to reminding us of some of the most important ideas of what it means to be human among humans: love, respect and kindness,” explained BVEM President & CEO Rich Bradley. “Many of us find that nearly 20 years after Fred’s passing, it is important to focus on his teachings once again, perhaps now more than ever. This is a week to re-engage with his massive body of work for some folks, and to introduce his teachings to others.”

Mister Rogers’ Week of Kindness begins March 20, 2023, the date which would have been Fred’s 95th birthday, and concludes on Saturday, March 26 with the Red Sweater Soiree, a community dinner to recognize 10 ordinary members of the community who inspire and exemplify the affinity that Fred Rogers had for showing kindness to our “Neighbors”.

A number of activities are planned. “The events will be offered free or at low cost,” continued Bradley. “This weeklong celebration is not a series of fundraisers, but rather about once again remembering and sharing some of the great work that Fred Rogers created, not only in early childhood education, but in reminding us that we are all part of one big ‘neighborhood’. Fred taught us the importance of accepting our Neighbors just the way they are and engaging in kindness with our interactions. I can’t think of another period in my lifetime where we needed to reflect on those messages again more than today.”

Many of the activities will be attended by members of the cast and crew of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, Fred’s most famous television show which ran from 1968 to 1975, and again from 1979 to 2001.

“He was probably the kindest person I ever knew,” shared David Newell, a close friend to Fred, and more famously known as the actor who portrayed Mr. McFeely. “He was kind; he was thoughtful. He practiced that every day, and he was like that with everyone. Now here it is, 20 years since his passing, and the program is still being viewed and discussed by people. I get letters from people who are watching it even today.”

Unbeknownst to even some locals, Central Florida was a major part of Fred Rogers’ life. “He took to the area immediately in 1948 when he transferred from Dartmouth College to Rollins College in Winter Park,” Rich Bradley noted. “He met the love of his life and future spouse Sara Joanne Byrd on the tarmac of what is now the Orlando Executive Airport. His sister (Elaine) and one of his sons (John) attended Rollins, as did his nephew Dan Crozier, who has served on the school’s music faculty for many years.”

Most importantly, at a point in his career, Fred and Joanne returned to the home they rented in Winter Park during the summers, where he used his time in Central Florida to write many of the 895 scripts and over 200 pieces of original music for the TV program, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. “The Orlando region is truly Mister Rogers’ real neighborhood,” Bradley observed.

Mr. Rogers’ Week of Kindness is being held under the auspices of the McFeely-Rogers Foundation, and the Fred Rogers Institute and Fred Rogers Productions. For more information on the events, visit MisterRogersWeekofKindness.com.

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