October 18, 2017

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.

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.

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.

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 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.

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.

“Night Catch”

We are delighted to share author Brenda Ehrmantraut’s blog with you today. Her appeal is widespread and includes the military community. When “Night Catch” was published it was a natural fit for us and our booklist. I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with Brenda numerous times and her sense of humor, creative view of the present and compassionate heart are so apparent.

OS1 Shawn Lane, Active Duty Coordinator on board USS Mason, reading "Night Catch" to his daughter, in front of their starry night backdrop.

This book blog has a little extra piece to it. One of our commands operating United Through Reading used “Night Catch” as an interactive family communication piece. The USS MASON had a great coordinator team of husband, Shawn Lane, active duty coordinator, and his wife Bobbi was the home- front coordinator.

Bobbi loved the book and developed a great activity. She created a starry night backdrop, cut out foam stars and sent them to the ship along with paper to trace and cut out the hand print of the Sailor parents who recorded “Night Catch”. The story could be read while sitting in front of the backdrop and then the parent traced their own hand, taped a foam star to it, and mailed it home with the DVD for their child to ‘catch’.

There were some great responses to the project, especially from some of Bobbi and Shawn’s own 4 children. Their toddler daughter tried to ‘High-5’ the hand! The son of another crew member would sit at their TV to watch Daddy while talking to him the whole time. He didn’t mind if Dad couldn’t answer, he held long one sided conversations.

I asked Bobbi if she wanted to share anything with Brenda, the author. She said, “Thank you for writing such a great book! It has such a good message and is a tool for the kids. We all see the sky and outside we can all see the same stars.”

Shawn and Bobbi appreciated the United Through Reading concept and program so much that they have already said they would be coordinators on a future deployment. Shawn said, “It was great to see so many of the crew participate, even those from visiting services.” The USS Mason also carried some Coasties as well as personnel from the Singapore Navy who also recorded stories for their children. Thanks to OS1 Lane, United Through Reading is international on many levels.

OS1 Shawn and Bobbi Lane's daughter feels close enough to touch her Dad during story time with "Night Catch".

Today we’ve asked Brenda to share some of the background to her motivation in writing the book as well as another story, “Hope Weavers”. We invite you to share your family’s Night Catch comments here in the blog too. Enjoy ~!



By Brenda Ehrmantraut

Isn’t it crazy the places our paths take us? I visualize myself standing on the outside of a window holding a copy of Night Catch. I knock on the window to get your attention and hold up the book. You look up, smile at me and wave me to the front door. “Come on in!” your lips read. “We’re so glad you’re here.”
You see, I don’t have any military experience myself. Yet you all seem like a family who has the guest room fluffed up and ready for me. Thank you so much. I can’t tell you how honored and humbled I am that military families and organizations such as United Through Reading have accepted Night Catch as the gift from the heart that it was written to be and are sharing it with others.

Seven years ago, when my brother received his deployment orders to serve in Iraq with his Army National Guard unit, I was terrified. I thought the National Guard did disaster relief and community service on weekends. I didn’t know they went to foreign countries for undisclosed missions. And I couldn’t wrap my mind around the fact that he would spend an entire year separated from his family. My heart ached for my brother parent to parent. And from that, Night Catch was born. I think that is why it resonates with so many people, despite the fact that I am not a military spouse as many guess that I am.

Visit the author's website at www.bubblegumpress.net to order "Night Catch" and other titles by Brenda Ehrmantraut

In fact, I am a minister’s wife. But this has been a late career change for my husband. So I am now getting used to a life that has some of the same elements as yours: service, sacrifice and itinerancy. We know that “moving orders” will be part of our life. And I think this may be an area I will explore in writing soon. We have two school-age children and we moved them twice in two years. That’s fun, huh?

I might hit it with a sense of humor though. Because, frankly, some of the stuff that seems so doggone serious, is really just a blip on the screen. Take the haircut my son gave my daughter when they were six and almost three. When 12 inches of curly blond hair is laying on the floor and two gleeful children want you to be as proud as they are that they have managed to “make her a boy!” it’s just not that funny. But later, it really is. It’s snortin’ funny. The hair grew back and we’ve laughed about it for years. Please don’t judge me; don’t your preschoolers have access to scissors?
I started out talking about paths and ended up talking about scissors and that is exactly my point. I have wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember, but I never could have predicted that I would end up writing books for military families and longing – yes longing – to write more for them. It’s because the reception has been so warm, and the issues so relatable.

If you are interested in my other military title, it’s called Hope Weavers.

Themes of protection, reaching out to help others, and hopefulness make this another wonderful book by Brenda Ehrmantraut

It’s longer than Night Catch, but if you spend some time with it, you’ll find little surprises in the drawings by the amazingly talented Diana Magnuson who has illustrated, literally, a hundred books. Hope Weavers is a message for everyone about helping our fellow humans toward a brighter future. And keep an eye out for something on mobility, because I’ve got the bug to write it now. Go to my website http://www.bubblegumpress and send me a message. Tell me about moving, you, your kids and anything else you think will inspire me on this topic. Thanks!

Oh – if you’re in the mood for something funny that is all about typical kids and nothing about the military, check out my very first book, “I Want One Too!” If you have a little copycat in your house, you will quickly get the point of this sly sibling story.

And I’m excited to announce that Megan and Will, the beloved characters from “I Want One Too!” are appearing again in the upcoming title, “Me First!” due out this fall.
I hope you have as much fun reading the books as the illustrator, Robbie Short, and I have creating them.

Family shares their Experience

We always love to hear from our participants and this comes to us from Nicole Oosten. We first heard about her family’s experience when she posted on our Facebook page. We asked her to share a few more details with us and she has agreed to that with a few additional pictures. Enjoy and keep sharing with us!

My name is Nicole Oosten, and my husband (Sgt. Caleb Oosten) recently came back, early this year, from Iraq. During his 1 year deployment in 2010 I was pregnant with our first and only child. My husband did not have a chance to come home to see the actual birth of our daughter Willow, and could not see her until she was about 4 weeks old. During his leave period she was starting to see and understand who Mommy and Daddy were.

Sgt Oosten met his daughter for the first time when she was just 4 weeks old. After a 2 week visit he had to return to theater.

It was very heartbreaking when he went back because, even though my daughter did not know my husband for very long, she was very attached to him those two weeks. When he was about to leave on the plane she started crying in my arms. When I put her in my husbands arms she stopped crying and smiled a little. In my mind I thought I was not going to be able to handle the next nine months with her crying for him… Until we found out about United Through Reading. Caleb would send home, once a month, a book/video for Willow to watch and read with him. Funny thing was, anytime she was sad and I couldn’t get her to stop crying, I started playing one of his videos and she would stop and watch and giggle when he would read as well as play peek a boo with her! Anytime he would call home, and I put his voice on speaker, she would look up and smile and point at the phone and start giggling.

When he finally came home in March of this year and I put her in his arms, she didn’t cry or get scared at all. She just looked at him with a puzzled look on her face as if she was saying, “Aren’t you supposed to be on the tv?”

"Daddy, Aren't you supposed to be on TV?"

I also want to say that my daughter has a love for books now and I think it is because of this program. Sometimes when she doesn’t want to sleep right away at night and I’ve already read her 8 books, I put a couple of books in her crib for her to look at herself. Her very first word was actually book. I know, I almost didn’t believe it myself. For that first week of her saying book she would run over to her books yelling, “Book! Book!” She would pick one up, run over to Caleb, put it in his lap and stretched out her hands so he would pick her up and put her on his lap. She is now 15 months old and still loves to read.

I cannot thank you enough for your wonderful program and what you guys do for these soldiers and their kids. I know my family wouldn’t be the way it is without these books.

Powerful Medicine

We are pleased to introduce you to author Jerilyn Marler. Jerilyn has a special attachment to the Military and has written a terrific book addressing the concept of separation anxiety experienced by so many families. Her book, Lily Hates Goodbyes, touches on the emotions children have faced and illustrates several ways of coping. She wrote this book for her grand daughter. Don’t we all wish we had someone who would write such a special book for us? Well, she did, and it’s here!

Guest Blog by Jerilyn Marler

What is the value of a heart-to-heart connection between child and parent? We all agree it’s priceless. Now consider how beyond priceless that connection is when the child and parent are oceans apart. The United Through Reading Military Program delivers those connections daily.

Scott (my son) and Amanda learned about the United Through Reading Program during a pre-deployment preparedness meeting. They took Lily, their four-year-old daughter, to a used bookstore and together they selected six books. During the deployment, Scott sent home three DVDs, each with two videos of Daddy reading a story to Lily. You can imagine the happy dancing and excitement for Amanda and Lily when each DVD arrived. They would sit together and watch and listen—drinking in the sight and sound of the man they love so dearly and who was so dreadfully far away.

When Lily met her Dad at the pier, she had no qualms about jumping into his arms. Seeing him read to her while he was gone helped to prepare her.

“Hi, Lily. It’s your Daddy. Do you remember me?” Scott said at the beginning of one DVD. “Yes! Hi Daddy!” Lily said, bouncing on the couch. She would often talk to the television Daddy, answering questions posed in the story and commenting on the illustrations. The interaction was immediate and real to her. That’s incredibly powerful medicine for a little heart that is swamped with sadness because Daddy is away.

Once the book reading was done, Scott used available recording time to simply talk to Amanda and Lily. He shared what he could about his life aboard ship, talked about how much he missed them both, and described his anticipation of being together again. That’s powerful medicine for a wife who is aching with loneliness for her husband. On one of my visits with Lily and Amanda, I got to watch the DVDs with Lily. Lily buzzed around the living room, wired with excitement to see and hear Daddy again. I was filled with pride and love. That’s powerful medicine for a mom who is missing her son.

Every time Scott had to leave—even for relatively short trips as the ship prepared for an upcoming long deployment—Lily’s pain was palpable. I lived through separation grief as a child, so it was with a highly personal awareness that I sought to help Lily cope. I wrote Lily Hates Goodbyes especially for her. I decided to make it public after I saw how much it helped my darling granddaughter. Shortly after Scott’s long deployment began, I published Lily Hates Goodbyes on Amazon.com. I want all young military children to receive the reassurance and validation and hope of Lily’s story.

I was thrilled when two representatives of the United Through Reading Military Program contacted me shortly after publication: one for the program specific to my son’s ship, the USS MOMSEN, and one for the national program. They asked to include my book in their reading lists. My answer: “LetmethinkaboutitYES!” Accompanied by a happy dance. I’m so honored that my book is part of this superb program.

I recently asked Lily what was the best part about the DVDs. “Seeing Daddy!” she said with certainty. “Oh, and hearing him! Seeing him and hearing him.” Powerful medicine, indeed.

Author Jerilyn Marler with her granddaughter, Lily, the inspiration for Lily Hates Goodbyes.


Book website: http://lilyhatesgoodbyes.com
Amazon.com book site: http://goo.gl/J0FdL

On Facebook: Lily-Hates-Goodbyes

Innovative Author Helps Connect Military Families

Today we are delighted to welcome author Jan Krystkowiak to our blog. Jan is a great friend and supporter of United Through Reading. Her book, You’re Never Far Away, is a customized children’s photo book that cleverly incorporates the child’s name into the story and photos with state of the art print technology, so that the child feels that his or her deployed loved one has personally written the book for them. Additionally, this year Jan will serve United Through Reading as the Chair of the 2011 Storybook Ball, our annual black tie gala and fundraiser to be held at the Hyatt Regency La Jolla on November 12th, 2011.

Written by Jan Krystkowiak

This morning, I am blogging from SUNNY Southern California. I will soon be in Salt Lake City permanently. Although I am not in the military, my life is as busy as a centipede shopping for shoes. Lots of shoes to fill and legs in every direction. I know all you military families can relate. 10 states in 14 years, 5 kids and 3 dogs! My husband, Larry is a former NBA player, who is now coaching. This year, he was working for the New Jersey Nets. He left for NJ Sept 1, came home for two days at Christmas, was offered the Head Coaching job at the University of Utah April 1, and flew directly to Salt Lake City. The Utes have joined the Pac-12 this year so it is a very exciting time to be a UTE. Currently we are in the process of “loading up the truck and moving FROM Beverly”.

Despite Larry having been absent the majority of this year, I am thankful that he is in a good place. He might be on the “FRONT LINES” taking “POP SHOTS” from the media, but he is for the most part safe and in the US. It is a far cry from what you military families experience. But I can RELATE to the absence and transient lifestyle for sure! For that, I am thankful for each and every one of our military members and their families for their service to our country. We are proud of you and will always support your missions. [Read more…]

Surprises at work are great!

In our series, Getting to Know Us,  Tina Wright, one of our new Coast Guard Program Managers,  shares ‘a day in the life’…..

As has been mentioned in a previous post, I was hired in March of this year as the National Program Manager for the Coast Guard. I am a Navy spouse and a command ombudsman for my husband’s command. Being associated with the Navy for 20 years, I thought being the Program Manager for the Coast Guard would be pretty simple for me. Boy was I wrong! I have to explain. I am very much a “NOW” person. I like to see results NOW. I knew from the beginning that United Through Reading was just starting their strong push into the Coast Guard so I knew that it would require some work, but, it didn’t feel like I was making any headway in the few months I had worked thus far. However, I was able to do a lot of research on this great branch of our military.

Recently, while wearing my ombudsman hat, I was involved with planning the homecoming for my husband’s command. About a week before their return, I was in a meeting with our Command Master Chief at Starbucks and noticed a couple of “Coasties” (as they are referred to in the Coast Guard) patiently waiting for their order. They happened to be stationed on-board the USCGC MORGENTHAU (one of my two Coast Guard commands currently running the program). I mentioned to them that I would like to meet with the United Through Reading point of contact and asked how I would go about doing so, since they happened to be in port. This was a golden opportunity for me!

USCGC MORGENTHAU is home ported at Coast Guard Island Alameda and had just returned from a deployment and was preparing to  quickly leave again. They ran our program on the previous deployment and wanted to run it again. My golden opportunity? They were originally trained long distance rather than face to face so, this was my chance to help them put a face with the program and let them see how important they were to United Through Reading and to the children in their lives as well. Ombudsman have reported how much the children  who already received DVD’s have enjoyed them and appreciated seeing their Coastie.

The USCG Commandant has declared 2011 as Year of the Coast Guard Family. The MORGANTHAU is helping me be a part of fulfilling that pronouncement by participating and sharing their United Through Reading experiences. On the spur of the moment, I visited their boat. (Attention Navy readers, they do say boat!) I went to the quarterdeck and asked for the Active Duty Coordinator and was able to introduce myself to him. Aside from the introduction, I was also presumptuous enough to ask for a tour of the boat (I had never been on a Cutter before). They had one of their Coasties give me a general tour of the boat which included the space where they do their United Through Reading recordings. That space happened to be the XO’s stateroom. Guess what that  meant? I also got to meet the XO and have a conversation with him. This was great!   Research pays off. The XO was pleased with my knowledge of the Coast Guard considering my background and proceeded to give me a command coin, the FIRST one I’ve received personally so it will hold a special place in my heart and as my collection hopefully grows, in my display. This interaction prompted the XO to be more involved with the program. He has since introduced me, through email, to their command ombudsman and found another Coastie to gather pictures and testimonials for our use on our Facebook page and other publications.

I’m very proud to be the Program Manager for the Coast Guard and I look forward to many more experiences like this in the future. What a great surprise in the midst of Starbucks. Who would have thought it?

Things can only go up from here and I currently have two commands running the program and am working a third. Life is good and now I feel like I am making progress.

News Chief: If you are interested in running our program in a Coast Guard command please let us know here in the blog comment section so we can contact you with further information. We look forward to hearing from you. You can always email us as well:Readourblog@unitedthroughreading.org

Getting to know Gerilyn, Military Team Lead

As Military Team Lead for the Program Managers within United Through Reading Gerilyn brings great experience to our table. She manages the Navy programs of the West Coast and also acts as liaison for all the remotely located program managers.

News Chief: Gerilyn, it is a pleasure to introduce you to our readers. Tell us a bit about your experience with the military.

Gerilyn: After serving on active duty I married a Sailor and his first ship was PCU Decatur (pre commissioning unit). Being a brand new ship, I had the opportunity to don my volunteer hat and assist with establishing the command’s FSG (family support group).  In my volunteer role I served as the Command Ombudsman for the USS Princeton for 2.5 years. During that stint I learned about the United Through Reading Military Program at a command pre deployment brief. I was so excited about this program I volunteered again, to support the ships program as the United Through Reading Home Front Coordinator (HFC). My time as the HFC allowed me to get to know the Program Manager at that time and I really enjoyed working with the organization.

NC: What about that experience reinforced wanting to participate?

Gerilyn: Everything! At that time our twin boys were about 5 and they had already been through 3 deployments. It was really awesome to hear that there was one more means by which they could stay connected and that it was personalized, just for them, not an email coming thru me, but something Daddy was doing FOR THEM. They were about to begin kindergarten, didn’t know anyone, and having that extra support from their dad was huge.

NC: What is the most important part of your role now, as Military Team Lead?

Gerilyn: It depends on the minute! As the program continues to grow, we have hired remote team members, so I assist in bridging the communication gap between these physical distances; a liaison between those who work remotely and staff in our headquarters in San Diego. With members of our team spread out amongst all the service branches and physically located from coast to coast, in 4 time zones, meetings can be a challenge. To further assist with this effort I’m part of our technology committee. We are exploring resources to enhance how we handle internal and external communications with everything from meetings to training of our coordinators, to future models of our program. We have been experimenting with Web Ex and other ways to share information.

NC: Is there a highlight you could share with us from your job so far?

Gerilyn: There are so many…but one of the big ones is the first time I got to go on the USS Carl Vinson. I had been on a carrier before but not to the extent of receiving such great hospitality from their crew- as it related to United Through Reading. My job was to train the designated volunteers but my day started by having an introduction to one of the chiefs who runs the flight deck. He gave me a tour and I saw all the knobs and gadgets; even miniature magnetic airplanes color coded to organize how the hangar bay works. It was great learning about how the air squadrons maneuver. After my coordinator training was completed, a full tour of the ship followed including being invited to lunch in the Chief’s Mess. It was awesome. I was fortunate to sit with the Command Master Chief as well as with RPC Enya George (who is still running our program!) They were so gracious to show me how it all worked, what they would be dealing with while deployed and really letting me understand how United Through Reading would be a part of their life while away.

Gerilyn, seen here on a subsequent trip to the CVN 70. Shown with author Ross Mackenzie and two of our Trustees, Dwayne Junker and Fran Holian.

NC: What is one thing would you like to communicate to our readers?

Gerilyn: It is increasingly important to support our military and their families and I feel that United Through Reading plays a huge role in that. Our program has been supporting the military for over 20 years now, but we are still new to some branches of our service. If I could communicate one thing to our readers I would ask them to start spreading the word; and one great way to do that is by word of mouth. If I tell a friend who then tells a different friend, and that friend tells yet another friend, the message can spread very quickly. There is nothing as good or fast as word of mouth.
As personal beneficiary of this program I have seen the impact it can have on children. My children smiled from ear to ear the first time they watched the video from their father. It is my wish that their smiles spread to as many military children as possible because of their families participation in United Through Reading. One little smile is why I enjoy my job so much!

NC: Thanks Gerilyn and to all our readers, in advance, for spreading the word. If you would like information on setting up a program for your command please comment here and we will introduce you to the manager for your branch of service.

Regional Volunteer Coordinator, Lemoore

Today we are happy to recognize Jill Loughran who has been serving in a vital volunteer role. Written by Tricia, our National Volunteer Program Manager for the Military Program.

Jill Loughran is our Regional Volunteer Coordinator (RVC) for NAS Lemoore, CA.  Jill was first introduced to United  Through Reading at a brief given by Deborah Loeffler (Director of National Outreach) during a PO/XO Leadership  Course in San Diego.  As soon as she heard about the program, Jill knew it was an organization she wanted to be  involved with.  With Jill’s background as a teacher, United Through Reading encompasses the ideals that she  treasures, reading and family time.  Jill, a strong believer in the power of books and reading, looks forward to  spreading the word about the fabulous opportunities United Through Reading provides military families.

Jill Loughran our Regional Volunteer Coordinator in Lemoore, Ca.

With an opening for an RVC at NAS Lemoore to fill, Jill joined our team allowing for a seamless transition in the summer of 2009.  Her excellent organizational skills, background as an educator, and “take the ball and run with it”  professional style are sterling qualities that make her a valuable asset to the Military Program RVC Team and to  fulfilling the mission of this organization. She speaks at Air Squadron pre-deployment briefs and shares the wonderful news that the Military Program is available to Command personnel during their deployment. As the United Through Reading local representative at Family Readiness Group meetings and other various outreach events, Jill shares how our program will greatly benefit our military families during this time of separation.  In addition, Jill recruits and trains key volunteers for the Command who will assist with running the program.

Jill and her husband Rob, an F/A-18 pilot, live in Hanford, California with their three wonderful children.

Young Boy makes a Difference

Many readers saw the photo posted on our facebook page last week of Tyrone and his generous gift to United Through Reading. His mentor from BAE Systems, Suzanne Lynch, was able to recognize him with the following words in front of his elementary school. It is such a heartwarming story and can interest our youngest supporters in becoming philanthropists!

My name is Sue Lynch and I work @ BAE Systems and also am a mentor in the mentoring program that we have with your school district.
I’m here today to share a little story with all of you that touched my heart deeply as well as the hearts of many others that I have shared this with. Last week, during our BAE mentoring program, one of your fellow students, Tyrone Baker, approached me and told me that he wanted to make a donation to the soldiers (for the reading program) and then he handed me $1. I was so touched by his thoughtfulness that I told him to take his $1 back and I would donate $1 in his name just because of how very touched I was. He then handed his $1 back to me and told me that he wanted to use his $1, not mine!

So, I took his $1 and I donated it in Tyrone’s name to a military campaign that BAE had just launched for United Through Reading; this program provides our soldiers with books to choose from that they are recorded reading to their children and families while they are deployed serving our country. The book and videos are then sent home for their children to watch on TV so that they can have the sense that they are still spending time with their mommy or daddy while they are away.

Tyrone Baker, a 4th grader, donated $1 of his own money to our virtual book drive sponsored by BAE Systems

Tyrone’s donation has allowed for a soldier who is away from his family serving our country to do just this and for that I would like to thank Tyrone on behalf of BAE Systems and the United Through Reading organization by presenting him with this letter that was written specifically for Tyrone and this coin. This coin is a military tradition which means that Tyrone is a very special person in the eyes of United Through Reading – Tyrone now stands alongside many of their other friends like Jeff Kinney, the author of the book “Diary of a Wimpy Kid”.

I would like to close this out with a message to all of you young boys and girls to think about how much of an impact such a small thought or generosity can have on others. So when you are walking down the halls of the school and you pass a classmate, remember that something as simple as a smile or a simple hello can make a huge difference in someone’s day and maybe even change it for the better!

At United Through Reading we are pleased to see how a virtual book drive has reached beyond the walls of BAE Systems facilities and even beyond the mainly adult audience we host online. In our letter of recognition to Tyrone we included these words: 

We know that each recording makes a difference, and we want you to know that you are playing a part in making that difference. Your contribution helps us expand our programs to unite more families facing physical separation through the powerful read-aloud experience. On their behalf, thank you!

Meet our Marine Corps National Program Manager

It is a pleasure to introduce you to Suzan who will share her enthusiasm for our program with you.

I am the National Program Manager working with Marine Corps Commands for United Through Reading. I first became involved with United Through Reading six years ago, when I interviewed for the position of Program Manager for Marine Corps Commands. My personal life experience was as a military child and spouse and my background as a teacher made the job a very good fit for me!

Here’s a photo of a little cutie who is enjoying watching her dad read to her. He had the same book that she is holding, with stickers inside each book. Her dad put a sticker on his forehead, and she did exactly the same thing!

The reason that I love my job so much has a great deal to do with my background. My father was in the Navy for 30 years, my husband in the Marine Corps for 30 years, and our oldest daughter is a Marine as well. I’ve actually been through 12 deployments in my lifetime, and have experienced the challenges that they bring as a little girl growing up, and then again as a young wife and mother. I was also a Special Education Teacher for 10 years, and can tell you that the read aloud experience has many, many educational and psychological benefits. You put this all together, and this is what United Through Reading is all about. Uniting families facing physical separation by facilitating the bond that occurs when reading aloud together.

One of the spouses from a Marine Corps command deployed in Afghanistan shared the following with me… “My kids were beyond thrilled to see their dad on the TV (my five year old kept saying ‘Excuse me’… to try and get his attention!” Can’t you just see it! 

Each day I am lucky enough to work with many Chaplains, RPs, and Marines who’s wonderful efforts afford our service members to connect with their children by reading storybooks aloud on DVD. One of my favorite comments from one of them was, “It only takes 20 minutes to make a memory of a lifetime.”

As Close as the Moon

Captain Patrick McGrail, author of As Close as the Moon, wrote to us with this great experience from his family to yours.

Even with video chatting, emails and telephone calls, I struggled to find ways to stay connected to my family while I was gone. I was able to communicate with them almost daily but staying connected takes more than just chatting. It takes sharing something meaningful that somehow crosses the 7,000 miles between us in a tangible way. My sons and I shared the moon and every night I sent it across the sky with a story and my simple message to each of them.

As Close as the Moon is a story for families separated by miles but held together through memories and hope - and in memory of those who have not returned. We carry each of them in our hearts no matter the distance or time. ~Patrick McGrail

In the last hours before I left for the long war in Iraq, I stood beside my Wife’s car. I held each of my sons tight in my arms, kissed their faces and told them softly how much I loved them. I placed each one in the car, buckled them in and kissed them a final time. As I leaned in to kiss my wife, my Son Hollis said “I’m gonna miss you Dad”. “I will always be with you” I told him. “The moon you see every night is the same one I will be watching” I said. “Every night, when the moon passes overhead, I will tell the moon that I love you” I explained. “I am as close as the moon.”
It was the story of a man alone in the desert who spoke to the moon and of a son who listened for his father’s words when the moon floated overhead that held us together. I had shared that story with my sons almost every night as my deployment neared and it stayed with us while I was gone.

Not surprisingly, one of the first things I did when I arrived overseas was to take advantage of the United Through Reading program offered in the USO. The United Through Reading program kept us connected. From “Where the Wild Things Are” to “James and the Giant Peach”, my Sons were able to see me, hear me and hold the book that I had held almost forgetting we were so far apart.
I could almost feel my Sons in the small recording room with me when I read the books to the video camera. My sons all gathered on the couch each time a book arrived. They watched the video following along with the book and often watched it more than once. Bed time was still story time and Dad was, in a very tangible way, still connected, still home.

Tell Us about your United Through Reading Experience

From our Development team..

Here at United Through Reading, many of our most rewarding moments come from families who have allowed us to share in their experience as program participants. When we receive an email or facebook post with a testimonial or photo, we are overjoyed to see our mission at work! As we all know, a picture can be worth 1,000 words and nearly as many emotions, so to receive this sort of feedback is a real privilege.

A Marine's children get some much needed face time with their Dad


Equally powerful are the words of participants, telling us how United Through Reading eases their separation from a loved one. . .

“I like listening to the video, so when I fall asleep I can find you in my dreams.”
~ From a soldier’s 7-year old daughter, as conveyed to her father

We continue to be inspired in new ways as families share their stories of connection amidst tough times of separation. We count ourselves especially fortunate when we hear testimonials directly from children, as in the case of the sweet-dreaming soldier’s daughter above. If you or your child has a United Through Reading story to share, we would be honored if you would send it to us at READourblog@unitedthroughreading.org or click on the comment tab at the top of this post.

Just as you delight in opening your mailbox to a package containing a DVD from your loved one, we delight in opening our email to a message from you telling us how your family has bonded over story time, even if from a distance.