Environment / Nature

Local environmental activist appears on ‘Sesame Street’

No Straw November founder Shelby O’Neil brings her message to national TV.
Judah Williams and Shelby O'Neil while filming the 'Sesame Street' segment in Monterey. Photo courtesy of Shelby O'Neil.
Judah Williams and Shelby O'Neil while filming the 'Sesame Street' segment in Monterey. Photo courtesy of Shelby O'Neil.

Hollister local Shelby O’Neil has shared her environmental message from San Benito County across the nation for several years. Last month, she got to speak on one of the nation’s most famous and popular streets, that street where “the air is sweet.” Yes, O’Neil got to appear on “Sesame Street.” 

O’Neil, 19, appeared on the May 11 episode that focused on finding nature and getting out in the environment no matter where one lives.

“The really beautiful thing about my segment showing the ocean is it really showed a different dynamic of what the environment has to offer,” she said.

O’Neil, a San Benito High graduate and student at UC-Berkeley, founded the No Straw November movement and has been an environmental activist for several years, even speaking before the State Assembly. She’s majoring in society and environment, with a concentration in global environmental studies.

In 2018, she contacted “Sesame Street” about teaching its viewers about nature, the harm of plastics, and other environmental concerns, but did not hear back. Following a feature about her in the Washington Post, she reached out to the show again and was invited to be a guest.

“When they asked me I was very shocked,” said O’Neil, whose intent was not to be on the show but rather to share her environmental message through “Sesame Street.”

With a group of local children, O’Neil and Wavecrest Films headed to the Monterey shore and the Monterey Aquarium in February to film a segment on coastal ecosystems, as well as a beach cleanup. 

Lizz Stout arranged for her nine-year-old son Judah Williams to participate in the segment. Getting to the beach is not always easy, as Williams has been in a wheelchair since age six, but Stout said O’Neil’s passion got the kids excited about filming.

“He is at a really good age for asking questions about, ‘what is my impact?’” Stout said.

O’Neil said she wants to continue to teach kids about the natural world, and that she wants them to understand “there are so many beautiful things on planet Earth.”


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Carmel de Bertaut

Carmel has a BA in Natural Sciences/Biodiversity Stewardship from San Jose State University and an AA in Communications Studies from West Valley Community College. She reports on science and the environment, arts and human interest pieces. Carmel has worked in the ecological and communication fields and is an avid creative writer and hiker. She has been reporting for BenitoLink since May, 2018 and covers Science and the Environment and Arts and Culture.