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!’