Military children across the United States can’t contain their excitement when they check the mailbox and find a package from a deployed parent who may be thousands of miles away.

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The kids open their United Through Reading® package to find a video recording of mommy or daddy reading a storybook to them along with a copy of the book. They can immediately pop their DVD into the DVD player or computer, curling up under a blanket while their parent overseas or across the country comforts them with a sweet story.

It means little smiles and laughs, tiny hands touching the screen, and reading along with their parent until it’s bedtime.

For parents away during deployment, it brings comfort to them, knowing their little ones are reading with them, and their spouse has some time to rest, regroup, or de-stress after a long day of keeping a routine at home.

And for millions of military families separated during deployment or other military assignments, it’s a chance to be “united through reading.”

United Through Reading stock photoshoot

United Through Reading is a nonprofit with the goal of keeping kids stress-free and learning while helping the spouse at home feel supported.

“It brings normalcy back to the home in an abnormal situation,” Dr. Sally Ann Zoll, UTR’s CEO said.

The program began in 1989, serving local Navy families in San Diego. Since then, UTR has expanded to working with all branches of the military, with nearly 200 recording locations worldwide.

United Through Reading has shifted with the times too…from VHS to DVDs, and is now looking at cloud-based video sharing.

Here’s how it works:

  • Service members separated from their families due to deployment, training, or military assignment visit one of United Through Reading’s 200 locations worldwide.
  • The service member chooses a book to read aloud to their children, and a United Through Reading volunteer records their story
  • That video recording is sent to their family as a DVD. The book is also included in the package so that children can read along with their deployed parent.

Changing With The Times

Kurt Schwend, UTR’s Senior Director for Technology, says the organization is already testing the cloud-based technology and website with several deployed units.

The new program delivery will include private, individualized accounts for service members to share with their families at home. This new development will allow families to connect almost instantaneously, because the videos can usually be uploaded to the site immediately after being recorded. At the same time, spouses at home can upload videos they take of their kid’s reactions and share them with the deployed service member.

Because not all installations have broadband access, DVDs will still be an option for families and units who prefer them. Schwend says that United Through Reading is focused on having cloud-based technology available to United Through Reading users in 2016.

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One important thing to take away from United Through Reading is that every family member is positively impacted by the magnitude of this effective and user-friendly program.

The recordings help bridge the gap between a deployed service member and his or her family. United Through Reading encourages literacy and makes homecomings easier for the service member and his or her child.

United Through Reading gives deployed service members a unique and special way to co-parent from afar by keeping them a part of their family’s daily routine, and allowing them to be instrumental in the development of their child’s reading and language skills. It also allows them to support their spouse by providing them with some down time while their children watch their UTR video.

According to United Through Reading, “In 2014, over twenty-five thousand recordings were made. One recording, with one story on it, may be watched more than 250 times during a ten-month deployment. Twenty-five thousand recordings, with an average of two children at home, over the course of a year of deployments adds up to more than a million bedtime stories each year.”

The recorded children’s stories give moms or dads at home some time to relax after caring for the kids all day. Kids turn their complete attention to their parent on the TV screen and settle in for a story, flipping through the book along with their deployed mom or dad.

Children are excited to read and spend time with their family creating these special United Through Reading moments.

SDG&E Impact Statement: SDG&E awarded two grants to United Through Reading in 2015. Their support made it possible for 600 parents and children to read stories together during deployments and underwrites a classroom connections program in which Marines at MCAS Miramar read books on video for story time at several local elementary schools.

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