August 28, 2014

USO and United Through Reading® Celebrate 250,000 Special Connections for Military Families Separated by Deployment

24-Hour “Read Around the World” global event marks a more than five year partnership of easing the separation of deployed parents: Google+ Hangout video showcases the program

In dozens of USO Centers, across multiple time zones worldwide, the USO and United Through Reading® will commemorate 250,000 recordings with a 24 hour Read Around the World day. The USO’s partnership with United Through Reading began in 2006 and affords deployed parents the opportunity to be video-recorded reading storybooks to their children, which eases the stress of separation. The USO ships the recording and a copy of the book to the troop’s family back home. The family is encouraged to take photos of their children watching the recording and mail those back to their deployed service member to complete the circle of communication.

“Knowing that your child back home can see your face and hear your voice, following along while you read them a story, is a priceless connection that we are proud to be a part of,” said USO President and CEO Sloan Gibson. “The United Through Reading’s Military Program has a powerful impact and promotes lasting connections for families separated by deployment.”

United Through Reading, the nation’s first nonprofit to promote the read-aloud experience for military families, has been supporting our nation’s military since their founding in 1989. When a deployed mom or dad sits down and reads a book it brings back a sense of normalcy, relieving stress for those families at home.

“We like to call each DVD Mommy or Daddy ‘on demand’ because any time children miss their deployed parent they can pop in the DVD and see their parent read a story book,” said Sally Ann Zoll, Ed. D., chief executive officer of United Through Reading. “The morale of the whole family is boosted. United Through Reading is proud to celebrate the 250,000th DVD recording made at a USO location.”

The public can follow the progress of the day on uso.orgfacebook and twitter. Read Around the World will kick-off in Japan on November 19th 5pm EST and end on the West Coast of the United States 24 hours later. During this time, the USO is asking deployed parents to visit a USO Center to record a reading as well as asking military families to share their favorite United Through Reading memories, books and photos with the country on the USO and United Through Reading facebook and twitter pages using the hashtag #ReadAroundtheWorld.

United Through Reading and the USO have also partnered with Google to show how Google+ Hangouts can be used as another way for military families to stay connected when dispersed around the globe. The public can watch a deployed Dad stationed in the Pacific as he connects to his family in Hawaii via Google+ Hangout. Clickhere to see the video.

United Through Reading can be found at nearly 200 recording locations worldwide including more than 70 USO Centers. The 250,000 United Through Reading’s Military Program recordings is part of the 1.5 million beneficiaries that United Through Reading has served since their founding.

United Through Reading and Reading is Fundamental Family Reading Celebration

United Through Reading and Reading is Fundamental Partner for Month of the Military Child

Reading Is Fundamental (RIF), the nation’s largest children’s literacy organization, partnered with United Through Reading in hosting the Fort Bragg Family Reading Celebration, reaching military families with parents who have recently been deployed or will be deploying. The event was held Tuesday, April 3 at Devers Elementary School in Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

The celebration, made possible through the generous support of Macy’s, provided free books to more than 400 children. Pre-K-2nd graders heard “The Kiss Box,” by Bonnie Verburg and Henry Cole, telling a story about separation and love. For 3rd-5th graders, a Sentinel from the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, read-aloud “Anna and Natalie,” by Barbara H. Cole and Ronald Himler, telling a story involving military service and incorporating disabilities.

Children received their own copy of the book they were read, activity guides incorporating themes from the book and were able to choose another free book to bring home.

Martin Luther King Day

In honor of Martin Luther King Day (January 16), YMCA READS! participants and volunteers partnered with United Through Reading to assemble eight kits containing video cameras, tripods, DVDs, children’s books, cards and letters of support, and small gifts for troops being deployed overseas. Service men and women will be given the opportunity to be recorded on camera while reading a story to their children from afar in celebration of Dr. King’s birthday, and their families will be recorded enjoying the story at home so that their deployed loved ones can see their reactions.

Families and service men and women will be able to keep the recorded stories and books as keepsakes of a time when they were able to remain “united through reading” even during a difficult separation.

We’re grateful to the 3,000 volunteers who wrote letters, assembled kits, collected donations of books and morale-boosting items.

To join us in celebrating Dr. King’s birthday in your family, you might want to look for one of these books:

Martin’s Big Words, by Doreen Rappaport which puts some of Dr. King’s biggest ideas into a story children understand and relate to.

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats, a Caldecott Award winner which just celebrated its 50th anniversary.

Amazing Grace, by Mary Hoffman about a young girl’s struggle to push boundaries.

For more great ideas visit Reading Rockets’ suggested reading list for Black History Month.

BuoniStrings Plays Performances to Benefit United Through Reading

Our sibling trio, BuoniStrings, is made up of violinists Rachel (15), Claire (10) and
cellist, Brendan (13). We play various styles of music, including classical, sacred, folk and traditional. We love to play our music together, and over the last few years, we have played at nursing homes, churches, retail stores, private functions and other locations around our community. One of our absolute favorite places is our local library. Last year, we asked if our trio would be able to play there at Christmas time to thank all our friends there and show them how much we appreciate them. The library said yes. This year, we will be playing there again on December 20th, but we wanted to do it as a charity benefit. We talked about some different charities and causes with which we were familiar. Because we are friends with a number of young men and women who have recently joined the armed services, we decided that we wanted to do something for the military because of all the things they do for us. We looked at the USO website and found “United Through Reading”. We think that it the perfect charity to play for at the library.  Since then, we have been able to plan two more performances for “United Through Reading” at Shady Maple Smorgasbord and Shady Maple Farmers Market.

United Through Reading and Thinking

At the Baltimore-Washington International Airport  (BWI) we saw a seemingly endless line of more than 200 Soldiers waiting to check their duffel bags and board a flight taking them back to Afghanistan. This happens weekly, more than once a week. Many of you have been in this line more than once with your family standing by your side, your spouse trying to hold it together, and each of you taking turns holding your children.

Then a United Through Reading volunteer from the USO starts walking through the line telling you about something you can do, after you check in and before you take off, that will allow your children to see you every day you are away. At the BWI airport that ‘someone’ might be Dan,  who like many volunteers, has prior military experience but more importantly he has a heart for families and keeping them connected. He tells you that you can come to the nearby United Through Reading room, select a children’s book, record it onto DVD and have it mailed to your children at home for free.

I had the opportunity to walk the line with Dan last week, sharing the benefits of our program with the Soldiers preparing to depart on the military chartered flight. We explained that the program helps the service members parent from afar. We also said that children feel safer and more assured when they have a DVD of Mommy or Daddy that they can pull out for storytime… anytime.

We had a variety of responses to our invitation. Some knew of our program, so it was a quick sell. There are always a number of Soldiers who don’t have children yet so we are quick to let them know they can read to nieces, nephews and siblings as well.

There are a few who parents are feeling too emotional to read. I met a deploying Mom who said to me, “ I really want to do it but I don’t think I can.” My response to her was, “Can you share with me why?” She said, “I just can’t say goodbye.” I said,”Well, you are in luck because this is not the goodbye program! This is the hello program! This is the I love you every day program, the bedtime story and kiss goodnight , every night program.” That Soldier Mom brightened right up and said, “Oh! OK, I can do that!” and she did.

For those who weren’t ready to read, we shared our Current Program Locations list so they knew that there would be other opportunities for them to participate as they transited to their ultimate deployment location. http://www.unitedthroughreading.org/pdf/UTR-current-availability.pdf

At BWI we were  able to also share this experience with one of our partners, The Pearson Foundation. In 2011, they supported us with donations of over 18,000 books sent to deployed commands.

In September Pearson  sponsored a campaign called Now You’re Thinking based on a book of the same title. Now You’re Thinking! is the story of United States Marines in the 3rd Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment, who combined courage and perseverance with essential critical-thinking skills to conquer unbelievable challenges and save the life of a two-year-old Iraqi girl, Amenah Thabit. The story demonstrates how the power of thought can “move mountains” and help conquer seemingly insurmountable challenges.

Three nonprofits benefited: United Through Reading, The Pat Tillman Foundation, and The Mission Continues. How does it work? Pearson Foundation’s goal is to encourage critical/outside the box thinking at all ages. To that point, they have over 200 titles of children’s books available on their site, We Give Books. The site is easily searchable and exceptionally fun and well done. Please visit http://www.wegivebooks.org/ today and read digitally. Read ‘outside the box!’

A Mom of Many Hats

We recently had a great day shared with Debbie Fink, co-author of A Mom of Many Hats, at an event in Maryland. She shares her perspective with us today.

By Debbie Fink

What makes October 13th different from any other day on the calendar?

• If you ask a member of the Navy family, the response is likely to be: “October 13th? It’s the Navy’s Birthday!”

• If you ask a member of a family with a loved one living with breast cancer, you might expect to hear: “October 13th? It’s National Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day.”

• If you ask Lisa Perea Hane, a mom living with breast cancer and my heroic co-author of A Mom of Many Hats, she would respond: “October 13th? “It’s my son’s 16th birthday!”

• If you ask me, it would be for all these reasons, and a few more.

I was honored to be invited by Walter Reed National Medical Center to speak at the 8th Annual Cancer Art Show. My friends at United Through Reading and the USO were able to attend. My topic was the Mom of Many Hats Book & Project. As a civilian, it was an opportune gift, wherein I merged two missions near and dear to my heart:

1) To thank our Military families and children for the daily sacrifices made on behalf of our freedom (come back to read November’s Operation Thanksgiving Eagle’s blog). http://operationthanksgivingeagle.com/Home.html

2) To help families and children, who have a loved one on a cancer journey, move from fear to strength (visit http://momofmanyhats.com/Home.html )

On October 13th, I had the chance to thank Military families while helping them cope with a cancer diagnosis. As if military life isn’t stressful enough…

What else made this October 13th so different and memorable?

Civilians joined us at Walter Reed for the event. A few of these civilians commented afterward that it was, “the first time they’d interacted with military personnel”, and these Servicemen/women/children didn’t ‘fit’ the invisible stereotype –  always strong and stoic…  A stereotype that many civilians don’t even realize they have.

The October 13th event showed Military personnel singing, dancing, playing music (the phenomenal U. S. Air Force Strolling Strings ( http://ow.ly/79vkM ) serenaded us during our book signing after the event), listening, laughing, and emoting while sharing their cancer-related stories.  October 13th at our Walter Reed event, the civilians and Military present shared common ground in their fight against cancer.

And the invisible walls came ‘a-tumblin’ down. Person by person; interaction by interaction; family by family. We’ve only just begun.

Catherine, Sara and Grace modeling hats of virtue illustrated in the book. Viking hat for power, Cowboy hat for regaining control, Sombrero for rest and relaxation

So . . . back to A Mom of Many Hats. It’s a therapeutic and powerful story, beautifully illustrated by Caroline Smith Heming, who took the project on while losing a dear friend to cancer. The book overflows with healing love; collective wisdom; thoughtful pedagogy; child psychology; and helpful virtues. It provides coping tools for the entire family facing this medical crisis.

My head thought to write a more explanatory blog about A Mom of Many Hats, or more about its heartwarming backstory. But my heart told me to share the story of October 13, 2011.

So when next October 13th rolls ‘round, I’ll be singing “Happy Birthday!” to our U.S. Navy; praying for all those with metastatic breast cancer; sending Lisa’s son a Happy Birthday text; and recalling how we helped some invisible walls between our Military and Civilian Americans– walls that invisibly divide our indivisible nation – come a’tumblin’ down. Perhaps you’ll be joining me!

 

Many thanks to Debbie and her incredible positive energy. Be sure and see her books on our booklist too! http://www.unitedthroughreading.org/booklist/

Stats Confirm Benefit to Military Families

United Through Reading and BAE Systems co-hosted the second annual Capitol Reception at the Capitol Visitor Center in Washington, D.C. on September 21st, 2011. Over 150 guests from the House Armed Services Committee, Congressional staff, industry, the nonprofit sector, active duty military, and military families attended.

Representative Allen West (FL)

After an impactful video about United Through Reading set the emotional stage, Representative Mike Rogers (AL) and Representative Allen West (FL) spoke about the number of service members who are separated from their families and the importance of keeping them connected to their children through programs like United Through Reading.

According to a 2010 Blue Star Families survey, there are 1.9 million children with a parent serving in the military; 220,000 of these children have a parent currently deployed. The demands of extended separation add to the challenges faced by military families. Representative West spoke personally about the separation that he and his family have experienced over generations of military service.

Commander Mark Melson, USN, and his wife, Stephanie, punctuated this sentiment by relaying their recent deployment experience where United Through Reading program managers worked with their command leadership to set up recording locations in El Salvador; Sigonella, Italy; and Djibouti, Africa. With three young children of their own, they benefited from having Commander Melson reading storybooks aloud on DVD. To Stephanie’s delight, her children watched and listened to the DVDs again and again.

Baby Melson giving her Dad a 'High 5'!

Remarks from Dr. Sally Ann Zoll, chief executive of United Through Reading, translated the intuitive benefits of United Through Reading into statistical evidence from an online survey of more than 400 United Through Reading participants:

• More than 75 percent of participants said the video recordings reduced their children’s anxiety about deployment
• More than 85 percent said that the recordings helped the deployed service member stay connected
• And more than 67 percent of participants said their children’s interest in reading and books increased after participating in United Through Reading

Zoll commended every organization that makes a difference in keeping military families connected and acknowledged United Through Reading’s strategic partners in the audience. She highlighted the programmatic partnership with the USO that has been growing strong since 2006. The USO engaged TARP Worldwide in 2009 and 2010 to query participants and found that United Through Reading’s Military Program is:

• The number one USO program rated “extremely valuable” by active duty service members and their families; 90 percent of participated rated the experience as “extremely valuable”

• The number one USO program in terms of “satisfaction” with over 81 percent of active duty and families who have used the program being “very satisfied”

• The portion ranking United Through Reading as “extremely valuable” and those who are “very satisfied” has increased each year

Zoll concluded, “We have served over one million beneficiaries in the past 22 years. Our largest market share is with Navy & Marine Corps Commands which run over half of our 270 recording locations worldwide. USO hosts another 30%. We are thrilled with that success, but we also recognize that we have a tremendous growth opportunity in broadening our exposure and usage in the Army, Air Force, Coast Guard and National Guard.”

Erin Moseley, Senior VP of Government Relations for BAE Systems, Inc.

Erin Moseley, Senior VP of Government Relations at BAE Systems, acknowledged the growth opportunity for United Through Reading to reach more military families. She encouraged industry to step up. BAE Systems has contributed significantly as an industry sponsor. In addition, BAE Systems spearheaded the first-ever virtual book drive which raised over $50,000 in books.

Nine-year-old Emma Reese concluded the program. Her dad has been deployed 44 months in the past seven years. It will be 46 months by the time he gets back from the current deployment. That is a significant amount of time to be away from his family — over three and a half years. Emma’s Mom, Alia, said that the Reese family likes to note that this is a story shared by many families and a sacrifice they are proud to endure since many have given more.

Emma Reese spoke before attendees at our reception and titled this picture, "I love my Daddy and he loves me".

From Emma’s viewpoint, she doesn’t feel like her Dad has been gone that much. She thinks the reason she feels like he is part of her every day is because she still gets to read with him whenever she wants. She simply pops in a DVD. United Through Reading acknowledges that the program concept is simple, but to profound effect.

 

 

You Can Help

The work of United Through Reading is simple.

We offer parents who are deployed with the military an opportunity to read bedtime stories to their children from wherever they are in the world. Imagine a soldier stepping into a tent in Afghanistan, dropping his helmet and gear and picking up a copy of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. Now imagine that soldier’s child, tonight, before bed, sitting down for a bedtime story with Daddy.

That moment, that one story, is enough.

That moment, that one story, it is enough.

That alone is reason enough for us to continue our work. Those few minutes each day when a soldier or sailor’s daughter gets to read a book with Mommy or Daddy is worth every minute and every dollar we spend to help make it possible, but of course, like when you give a mouse a cookie, that’s only the beginning…

When a parent, deployed to a war zone, takes the time to read a story to his or her child at home, the effects are far-reaching and long-lasting. When a parent reads a story from deployment:

• Children’s anxieties are eased
• Spouses at home are supported
• Service members morale is boosted
• Homecomings are easier
• Children become readers

United Through Reading offers the opportunity for parents to be recorded reading storybooks to their children at home from nearly 300 locations around the world including desert camps in Iraq and Afghanistan, bases and installations worldwide, nearly every deployed US Navy ship and in more than 70 USO centers.

We hope you’ll consider becoming a part of our work to bring Mommy or Daddy home for story-time no matter where they are in the world by contributing online now at  http://www.unitedthroughreading.org/giving/donate-now/. Thank you.

Emma Reese A Great Spokeswoman

Nine-year-old Emma Reese loves to read. She and her brother stayed connected with their deployed Dad via DVDs that allowed them to read with him any time. She shared her enthusiasm with us at our recent Capitol Reception. Enjoy…

 

Hi, my name is Emma. I LOVE to read!

Emma Reese spoke eloquently at our recent Capitol Reception

My Mom and Dad read to me and my brother every night. They have been doing this since I was born. I don’t remember all of the books they have read but some of my favorites are: Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, Nancy Drew, Percy Jackson and the Olympians, and the first 3 Harry Potter books. (My mom won’t let me read the rest yet – she says I’m too young.)

Reading with my family makes me feel happy and loved. We all sit on my bed, cuddle, and enjoy the stories together.
My Dad has been deployed a lot. He’s been away for about half of my life. But I don’t feel like he’s been gone that much. I think a reason I feel like he is part of my everyday is because I still get to read with him whenever I want to.

I have recordings of my dad reading lots of books to me. Some of the books were good for me when I was younger. My brother really likes those now! Some of the books have stories and lessons that are good for me now.

Representative Allen West (FL), Representative Mike Rogers (AL), Miss Emma Reese

On the days when I miss my Dad a lot, I like to read along with him. My brother does too. Sometimes we sit on my brother’s bed and read with Dad – just like when he is home.

I miss my Dad, but reading really helps me stay connected to him. I hope that lots of other kids will get the same chances I have had to read with their Dads and Moms, even when they are separated because of deployments and other work.

Devoted Dad

New and devoted Dad, Joseph McAtee, deployed when his daughter was just two weeks old. He shares his experience with us today, not only from the perspective of an Army Sergeant, but from a father far from home. When asked about  his family’s overall reaction to United Through Reading, Joseph said, “Recording a story onto DVD is a no brainer…it takes such a short time to make such a reusable resource.” He also said that by the fourth DVD he sent, his wife was able to put the DVDs on to play in different orders so the novelty didn’t wear off for their daughter. Isabella McAtee was 11 months old upon Joseph’s return and he was able to participate in her first birthday. He said that the DVDs were an obvious support during separation and his daughter was very happy to have him reading to her now that he has returned. Some Dr. Seuss books were used on DVD and she especially likes “The Eye Book” in person.

By Joseph McAtee

It was December, 2009.  I had just landed in Kuwait en route to my second deployment in Iraq.

The preparation cycle was the same as my first deployment in 2007: a couple of shots, get the legal docs in order, field exercises aplenty.  It’s old hat to those of us who had been through it before.  This time was, though, markedly different for me for one major reason – my wife had given birth to our first child two months prior.

Unlike my first deployment, in which I was concerned about my safety and that of the other Soldiers in my unit, this time I spent the entirety of my concern on my wife and my daughter and how I would reintegrate into a family that was changing without me.

I would return to a wife who had gone from being somewhat overwhelmed by the early challenges of motherhood to a wizard who could change a diaper in 4 seconds with one hand while ironing with the other, all the while talking (coherently) into a phone smashed between her ear and her shoulder.  It wasn’t that I was missing the early months of my child’s life and my wife’s adjustment to it; it’s that I wasn’t sure how I would be able to hop on a train that had left the station without me.  So during those few days in Kuwait, I came across a United Through Reading room in a USO hut and tried to slow that train down.

Over the next 10 months, United Through Reading helped send five DVDs to my wife and daughter, and they would watch them often.  It was the first service I had ever really taken advantage of during my time in the Army.

Joseph McAtee read titles to his daughter including "The Eye Book", "The ABC Book", "Mi Casa, My House" and "Moo Baa La La La".

Now that I’ve returned to the civilian world, I’m on the other side of the coin, working for the National Resource Directory.  A joint project between the Departments of Defense, Labor and Veterans Affairs, the NRD has compiled nearly 14,000 resources (including United Through Reading) that connect Wounded Warriors, Service Members, Veterans, their families and caregivers with those who support them.  It’s a portal for the military community that lists resources across the country that provide services covering everything from financial assistance to education benefits and even employment resources.

I was fortunate enough to serve in an era when organizations like United Through Reading are providing opportunities to Service Members to stay connected to their families during times of physical separation.  Now, I’m fortunate to work on a project that serves those who protect us when that time of separation ends.

Right now, there’s a Soldier, a Sailor, a Marine or Airman who’s getting ready to head down range.  On his or her way, they might stop in a United Through Reading room and record a video.  They’ll know that there are organizations that are trying to help them, trying to lessen the hardships of deployment.  When they put the book down and when the camera is turned off, there’s still an organization that can pick up where United Through Reading left off.  The place to find that helping hand is the NRD.

 

United Through Reading is honored to be among the organizations listed in the National Resource Directory. We hope you will utilize it as well!

If you would like to share your United Through Reading story with us, please send an email to: ReadourBlog@unitedthroughreading.org or Facebookadmin@unitedthroughreading.org for details on how you can submit your story and photo. We’d love to hear from you.