Our military heroes make immeasurable sacrifices for our safety and well-being. One of these sacrifices includes leaving their loved ones behind. While adults and older children can respectfully understand obligation of duty, younger children often experience more difficulty coming to terms with this separation. Finding ways to stay connected not only eases both parties’ loneliness but can also make the miles apart seem less vast.
United Through Reading was launched to help bridge this distance by providing a story time connection between military personal and their children.
“Our founder was a military spouse and reading specialist,” explains Jessica Hall, Director of Marketing and Communications for United Through Reading (UTR). “After her husband’s year-long deployment their young daughter didn’t recognize her dad.” Jessica says that this realization birthed the idea of connecting the enlisted to their families through books. In 1989 the founder began recording service members reading books and distributed these to their families. “Now 30 years later, we have served over 2.4 million military family members and recently launched an app to make recording stories even easier.”
United Through Reading connects military families who are separated, for deployment or military assignment, through story time be recording the service members reading a story to a child in their life. Then the recording and a free copy of that book are sent to the child to watch on demand.
“Not only is our program a great way for military families to stay connected to one another during times of separation,” says Jessica, “but it also promotes a love of reading and helps build literacy skills.”
The raves are huge for this program on both sides and it has positive effects for all involved.
“Even older children watch the videos to see their loved one when they really miss them that day,” says Jessica. Even newborns have stopped fussing when they hear their parent reading to them. She also explains how it can help with co-parenting from a distance and establishes routine and family connection as they come together around story time. It also helps adults feel closer to their partner.
As the Director of Marketing and Communications, Jessica sees firsthand the powerful connections created through United Through Reading. But she is especially passionate about its mission as she and her family have been recipients of their program.
“I’d first learned about United Through Reading when my husband sent recordings from a deployment to our daughter,” she explains. “They have always had a special connection and while we could regularly video chat, she was too young to really engage or understand having a conversation over the phone.” She goes on to share how the storytelling captivated her little girl and she enjoyed watching them again and again. “When he returned home after nine months they eased into right where they left off, playing as if he’d been there the whole time.”
Jessica encourages everyone to share with service members and their families the services offered through UTR and that it is available to all veterans and active service members as well as all branches of the military.
The books, recordings and the app are free of charge and provide a powerful tool for keeping communication alive.
If you would like to support United Through Reading’s mission, please consider volunteering to assist service members with recording stories or helping out at community events. While there are opportunities to get involved throughout the country you can also make financial contributions too. Every dollar donated promotes the power of reading and helps keep military families connected and strong. For more information and to get involved go to United Through Reading.
On a personal note, I was thrilled that Jessica said “yes” to my request to answer my questions and share UTR’s mission. And when she shared her own story, I realized that her heart was deeply woven into her organization’s work and that is the formula for a powerful mission: a modern day’s citizen contribution from the home front and threading that into the promotion of literacy. What a goal for such an honorable program touching lives around the world.
Please open your hearts to UTR’s cause and consider how you too can promote how books uplift us each and every day.