April 24, 2014

“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

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.

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.”

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.

Volunteer Appreciation: Meet Tricia!

In our ongoing series of Volunteer Recognition, I thought it would be insightful to ask Tricia, our Military Program National Volunteer Program Manager, a few questions before she shares her thanks to all her great volunteers. It is important to note that all of our programs, including the Transitions Program and Grandparents Program, are supported by volunteers.

News Chief:  Tricia, what drew you to United Through Reading?

Tricia:  I knew a previous employee and liked hearing about the different facets of the position, particularly the military aspect, given my four years of service in the United States Air Force.

NC:  What is the most rewarding part of your job?

Tricia:  Hearing the impact of our program and the benefit to military families. It is wonderful! Working with our volunteers, attending events and meeting beneficiaries there, all work together to make my job so rewarding.

NC:  Tell us a bit about your own family’s use of United Through Reading’s Military Program.

Tricia: My own family has utilized United Through Reading. My niece is in the U.S. Army. She made many DVDs for her daughter when she was stationed in Iraq for nine months. Her daughter was only four years old when she was deployed. My nieces daughter’s face used to light up as soon as she would put in a United Through Reading DVD sent by her Mommy.  Their reunion was seamless, not uncomfortable in anyway.  I have four other family members in four branches of the service as well, so the possibility of future use of the program is pretty certain.

NC: Could you estimate how many Volunteers you have trained in your time with United Through Reading?

Tricia: Over the past 4 ½ years, I have worked with 103 Military Program volunteers. I am currently working with 23 active volunteers of which are all in CONUS and Hawaii locations, although I have had volunteers in Japan!

NC:  Tricia, you have many aspects of your job you obviously enjoy, but what is the most fun?

Tricia: Meeting amazing military men and women who already have such full and busy lives yet they volunteer from their passion for the program and their desire to spread the word to other families.

NC:  If you had one thing you could say to all your Military Program volunteers right now, what would that be?

Tricia: Our Military Program volunteers deserve gratitude and applause for the selfless gift they give. Their time, energy, skills and talents are generously lent — again and again — are priceless!  Their efforts and dedication help make our organization better, our military communities stronger, and our world brighter. Thank you!

The Sight of Patriots

Wimberly, our National (Military) Program Manager for the east coast had an “Ah-ha” moment this week:

The Sound Of Freedom. The Sight Of Patriots Everywhere!

The runner stopped jogging. The light was green, but no cars moved. I looked in my rear view mirror, and cars were stopped in the streets. A sailor on the sidewalk faced the American flag and stood, saluting his country. It was 8:00 a.m., and The Star Spangled Banner rang out across the Navy base I was on this morning. For that moment, it didn’t matter where we were going or what we were doing. Honoring our country came first.

I am not often on the base that early, but I know this moment occurs every day on military bases around the world. I opened all my car windows and turned off my radio. I wanted to take in all that is patriotic. I observed these service members, so accustomed to honoring this country. They do it every day. I sat in my car, listening to the trumpet sound out the melody to that familiar song, and took this moment to think… Really think. Why do I seldom, on occasion, OK,  hardly ever pause to honor my country? My flag is out in my pool house, packed away until something “American” needs to be acknowledged. There was no denying it. I had become too busy to be a full time patriot.

Our flag was waving on a very sunny, cool, crispy morning. I don’t pause often enough to notice that. Do you? I can fill up a day better than anyone. Run circles around myself. Wear many hats. It felt good, really GOOD, to stop, honor my country, and feel American this morning!

May it warm your heart to know that, on one of our Navy bases, I witnessed our service members doing what is right. And they do it every single day.

God Bless our military!

Month of the Military Child Resource Fairs

Tricia, our Military Program National Volunteer Program Manager

How do we get our word out? Who can we tell about United Through Reading? Tricia, our Military Program Volunteer Program Manager, tells about her experience at a recent resource fair.

April is the Month of the Military Child, celebrating our nation’s most precious resource. Defense Officials say the month is meant to recognize the efforts and contributions of military children. Military installations worldwide will be hosting /sponsoring special events for children all month. As the Military Program National Volunteer Program Manager, I have the frequent pleasure of attending many San Diego military installation resource fairs in order to raise awareness about the Military Program and its benefits to military families. I especially take pride in attending the Month of the Military Child resource fairs. On various military installations throughout San Diego County, great effort is extended by the coordinators of each event to provide fun and healthy activities in which children participate. The events also provide an opportunity for non-profit military support organizations to share how they support our military families at information booths.

The variety of events during this very special month always impresses me. The Annual Armed Services YMCA “Healthy Kids Day” event at Santo Baseball Field is an event where parents and their children participate in an afternoon of athletic play by challenging each other to many games such as the obstacle course or tug of war while sampling healthy snacks. Spring is in the air for the annual “Spring Fling” event sponsored by Naval Base San Diego MWR / Fleet & Family Support Center. Many fun activities take place for children to participate in to include multiple Easter egg hunts throughout the event. This event draws a large crowd of up to 5,000 attendees. Another event is the annual “Family Day on the Bay” event held at the Marine Corps Recruiting Depot and sponsored by Marine Corps Community Services. This event provides a live band and DJ to help the military family attendees get in the spirit and has a large sandbox where volleyball games take place. Not to mention the good food provided by all.

All of the annual resource fairs provide fun as well as a plethora of information booths for the whole family to learn about the organizations in their local military community that are available to support them.
I am impressed with what a great job San Diego military installations do to recognize and support the military child during the month of April and all year through. To military children around the country, we celebrate you!

If you have a special way to recognize military children in your community, please share it with us.

My Daddy Is a Soldier by Anne Stratford

Second in Kara’s series, The Right Book, we are featuring a great book… while it is military centric, the message is wonderful for all our audience!

Our first highlight is My Daddy Is a Soldier by Anne Stratford. The story is one of “hope, understanding, and empowerment”. As the child thinks about what he misses when his Dad is deployed, he has a self-confident mantra that he “can do it!”. The positivity associated with this award winning book helps the child talk through the separation and the little things they miss when the parent is away. It’s tough, but he “can do it!” As parents read this book aloud on DVD through United Through Reading’s Military Program, they can affirm that they also miss helping with homework and reading in the big chair, but most of all, they love and miss the child. By acknowledging the child’s fears about separation, the parent can bolster the child by connecting with him in the pages of this book.

Author, Anne Stratford, is a fan of United Through Reading.
“I felt compelled to become involved with United Through Reading because their mission of uniting families facing physical separation so closely mirrored my own mission in writing My Daddy Is A Soldier for my nephew and nieces, who were struggling to cope with the deployment of their dad, my brother.
When families spend time snuggled up in their favorite spot reading a book together, noticing the tiny details of each page, making up funny voices, giggling and sharing along the way, it bonds them together. The moments are magical, but more importantly, they are irreplaceable….

I love that United Through Reading is creating opportunities for families to experience the kind of close, intimate moments they would normally share at home, even though they may be thousands of miles apart. It’s what makes this program exceptional, and it fills me with pride to be a part of it.”

We, at United Through Reading, appreciate Anne’s support as well as the generous gift of a discount to our readers from the publisher, Diamond Fly Publishing , Inc.
The site featuring My Daddy Is A Soldier is up and running! If you are interested in ordering the book for the special price of $15.99, please click the “like” button on the right side of our blog page to become our fan on FaceBook. Then go to http://www.mydaddyisasoldier.us and click on “United Through Reading.” Once you do, a box will appear asking you to enter a username and password. Here is the information you will need to enter:

Username: UnitedThroughReading (no spaces)
Password: UTR2011
Happy Reading. Hooah!

Meet our newest Navy Program Manager

Wimberly, our Navy Program Manager for the east coast, shares how she came to find us:

“Congratulations! You are now a civilian wife!” Those were words spoken to me by my husband on September 1, 2010, the first day of his retirement from 31 years in the Navy. I didn’t feel at all like celebrating. The truth is, I really miss my military lifestyle. Becoming a “civilian family” has been no easy feat for me.

I’ve encountered more rapid deployments, extended deployments, and general separations from my husband, than I can keep track of. Sick kids, broken appliances and missed birthdays were no strangers to our Navy family. There were moments – we all have them- when I was convinced mine was the most sacrificing of families out there. Certainly, the most patriotic! Despite the hardships of military living, my commitment to this life has been steadfastly etched on my heart.

In my quest to find a sound solution to getting acquainted with a new phase in life for me – life in the civilian world- I was approached by a dear friend of mine. United Through Reading was going to be my answer. My friend knew it before I did! I am a school teacher, by trade. Kids and education are my business. A strong family core is the foundation with which my husband and I have raised our children. It didn’t take long for me to learn that United Through Reading was in the business of kids and family too! Together, we have become a great fit in our mission of keeping families connected when facing separation.

Oh! That sound solution I needed? I believe in United Through Reading so much, I became the Military Program Manager for the Navy on the east coast! It is more than my pleasure to work with young military service members by providing a program to keep them connected to their families. I have heard so many testimonies of participants and the lifelong memories they have made. I can see the end result of a child comfortably reaching for a parent who has been away for awhile.

I look forward to a long, exciting journey with United Through Reading ~ One book at a time!
-Wimberly

Reading Room on board USS George H. W. Bush

Our new Social Media Manager, Marcia, tells about her last official event as National Program Manager, Navy..

I have been, and always will be, a Navy wife. Even though my husband retired this year, I had a really great Navy Day last Thursday. My job as National Program Manager helps families stay connected during deployment, but, it also helped me stay connected to the Navy Family I love. My Family. I have been able to get on ships, present our information at Pre-Deployment briefs and conduct training for volunteers all while promoting family connection and reading. I have loved this job!

It has been a privilege to work with the USS George H. W. Bush in setting up their United Through Reading Program for their upcoming maiden voyage. Along the way, so many of their volunteers have become friends. I attended the Change of Command ceremony for Captain Dewolfe Miller III . His end of tour coincided with my transition from Program Manager to Social Media Manager, so the event was especially poignant for me.

Going to my last ‘official’ event, as Program Manager, Navy, I was excited because I knew there would be some really great moments. And it was fantastic. Naval ceremonies never cease to inspire me, motivate me and fill me with patriotic fervor! The ship’s hangar bay was filled with a stage decorated in red, white and blue; Maritime Signal Flags hanging from the rafters, the Quantico Marine Corps Band playing, Crew in their dress uniforms and Doro Bush Koch in attendance with her sister- in- law Tricia Reilly Koch.

United Through Reading room on board USS George H. W. Bush; Tricia Reilly Koch, Doro Bush Koch, Captain Miller, Ellen Miller, America Wilson, Chaplain Fish

The USS George H. W. Bush is the only ship with a living namesake. President G. H. W. Bush has personally visited the ship and his daughter, Doro Bush Koch, is the official sponsor of the ship. She has donated all the books for the ship’s library including a large supply of children’s books for use in the United Through Reading Program. The ship library has been named for her and they have even built the fleet’s first designated United Through Reading Room! How fitting that during March’s Reading Month, I was able to tour the reading room with Doro and Tricia; the nicest, most down to earth people you could ever meet. We had some pictures taken and it was such a moment… Standing there,  realizing that I was standing next to the daughter of my President, the sister of my other President.

I was so proud to be seated with the Home Front Coordinator team who has volunteered so much time towards organizing United Through Reading promotions, craft projects for the children at Family Readiness Group meetings, picnics and other events. All of them at different points in their Navy lives. I had such a lump in my throat thinking about the time that has passed (for me) and how the road ahead for them is filled with possibilities. . All of this was facilitated by Ellen Miller who has been a tremendous supporter of the GHWB families, reading and literacy. Given their strengths and talents they have the potential to touch so many lives in a positive way and to bring new Navy families a connection piece they may not have had before.

As the ceremony began, the first guest speaker came to us via DVD; President George H. W. Bush. He gave a personal message, not only for Captain Miller and his wife Ellen, but for incoming Captain Brian Luther and his wife Sylvia. He used words like: “team focus, radiates, integrity and dignity” when describing them as people and leaders. You could have heard a pin drop in that gigantic place while he was speaking. I think everyone was holding their breath. It was wonderful. My observation over the past 8 months of working with them is that everything the President said is true.

While the USS George H. W. Bush prepares for its maiden deployment, in the wake of events happening in Egypt and other areas, and in the aftermath of the largest earthquake in recorded history in Japan, I couldn’t help but be filled with the hope that this great new ship and extremely prepared crew are set to make a difference in the world. I have to say I am extremely proud that they will be taking United Through Reading with them so their Sailors can virtually be home at bedtime for their children while they are gone.

Captain Miller quoted President Bush today, saying, “Any definition of a successful life must include service to others.” I appreciate Captain Miller’s service to our country as well as his commitment to provide United Through Reading to the Crew and families. It was an honor to be a part of the day.

For Captain Miller’s personal comments please see this link: http://bit.ly/hrsvBv

Read Across America on USS George H. W. Bush

We’re so honored to have been featured on WVEC as part of “Read Across America” events taking place – you guessed it! – across America last week.

As United Through Reading’s  Marcia Ellis explained, “It’s a way for the sailor to be home in their family room with their kids every night. They come home every night, they read a bed-time story to their children every night.”  Enjoy the video below and click here to see a map about United Through Reading’s Military Programs near you!

Storybook moments: Recorded readings help deployed soldiers stay connected to their kids

Army Spc. Jeremy Ganz cleared his throat, turned the page and read for a 5-year-old who was nowhere in sight.

“`Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house …’”

With every page turned, Ganz pressed a button, each time recording the sound of his own voice as he read from the specially produced hard-bound book in a studio at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. more

2010 USO Gala in Washington, DC

Trisha Yearwood, pictured with Dr. Sally Ann and her husband Jim Zoll, at the USO Gala on October 7, 2010 in Washington, DC.

Sally Ann Zoll Guest Speaker on Army Wife Talk Radio

Sally Ann Zoll, United Through Reading CEO, was a guest speaker on Army Wife Talk Radio about how United Through Reading provides support in the lives of physically separated families. Click here to listen

Bedtime Stories From Marines to Children Back Home

CBS NEWS: Sergeant Sheda was reading the books out loud while looking into the lens of a small video camera … from the program, called “United Through Reading,” which begun in 1989. .. continue

The USO marked 100,000th recording of United Through Reading’s Military Program

The presentation took place on June 5 at the 2010 Patriotic Festival, a free, three-day event, on the Virginia Beach Waterfront, celebrating the military and featuring Uncle Kracker, Hall & Oates and Jason Aldean.

“We are extremely proud to reach this significant milestone, connecting deployed service members with their families despite the thousands of miles that separate them,” said Sloan Gibson, USO president. “Our partnership with United Through Reading is a great example of our mission to support military families, and this year’s Patriotic Festival is the perfect venue to celebrate this achievement!”

Photo: Marcia Ellis, National Program Manager for United Through Reading®, congratulates the USO and Jeff Hill, VP for Operations in the U.S., for achieving a historic 100,000th recording milestone.