Reading program keeps deployed service members connected to home through the holidays

As more service members are deployed to the Middle East amid rising tensions in the region, one organization has a fun way to keep them connected to their families this Thanksgiving.

United Through Reading uses the power of books and reading to help military families, said Jessica Hall, the organization’s vice president of marketing and communications.

“It’s just a wonderful way to stay connected,” she said. “I would hope that we all have a really great memory of growing up and sitting on the couch with a loved one reading a book. Our program still allows that memory to happen.”

Here’s how the program works: military members record themselves at “story stations” reading a book. Those stations can be located on ships, aircraft carriers and at military bases.

The recording is sent back home along with a free copy of the book so the service member’s children who can watch and read along on demand, Hall said.

Since the organization’s founding in 1989, it has connected more than three million families through its reading program.

“Not only does it keep those connections open, but it reduces stress for every single family member,” Hall said. “The service member who is away gets a few moments to think about home. It helps the kids because they’re missing that person.”

The video recording also helps partners and caregivers at home get a much-needed break.

“People tell us that they do the dishes. They take a shower while their kid is enjoying a book with a loved one,” she said. “So, you still have your co-parent there.”

The service is free for all retired and active military members, no matter their duty status. Hall said the recordings are meaningful during the holidays if a service member is deployed.

“When it’s your mom or dad that’s away, you just feel out of sorts,” she said. “By having something to connect with them, it helps kids feel a little whole. There’s nothing more special than reading your favorite holiday book.”

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