In my last blog, I wrote about a time in my life when I was the one at home and my husband, Gary, was deployed overseas with the Marine Corps. He would read stories into a tape recorder for our young child to hear his voice and, in her imagination, be with him even though he was tens of thousands of miles away. Anyone who has experienced this type of separation understands how incredibly special those moments were for our child as well as for me.
With the current state of recurring and lengthy deployments, the need for this type of connection between a service member and his or her daughter or son has never been greater. However, the void this kind of separation creates can become a hard wound to heal.
Just think. Every year, more than 100,000 military parents deploy, leaving more than a quarter of a million children behind. With an average separation of about six months—conservatively-speaking—each of these children have 180 nights without their father or mother at home for a bedtime story. When combined, that equates to 40 million bedtime stories missed each year by children of our service members.
180 days away from a loved one is a long time for anyone, especially a child. The stories of a mother returning from deployment, a stranger to child, are all too prevalent. This is why I am determined to stay connected to organizations that serve the needs of military families. And this is why I wanted to share the story of an organization I am blessed to work with that is doing amazing work for our families who serve. The organization is United Through Reading and they work tirelessly to keep military families connected through the bonding experience of shared story-time, regardless of the distance that separates them.
United Through Reading (UTR) has stood ready for nearly three decades—deployment after deployment—to offer military families one of the most unique and beautiful experiences you will ever see. Simply, the deployed service member is filmed reading a story book; the video is sent to the family back home; the same book being read by dad or mom is shipped to the child’s address; and the child experiences the joy of seeing and hearing his or her parent as, together, they both turn the pages of the same book.
Kids can watch the stories again and again—especially at those times when they need and miss their mom or dad. There are no problems with internet connections, time differences, or those times when calling home is not an option. Service members are there for bedtime every night, or for a birthday, or a first day of school. As a result, the stress of separation for the service member, spouse, and child is eased, family bonds and resiliency are strengthened, and homecomings are easier as the service member returns to the child’s life not as a stranger, but as the daddy or mommy who was always there whenever needed.
Although more than two million military mothers, fathers, and children have benefited from UTR’s services, there are still millions of stories left to send home. We have a goal of facilitating 10 million stories this year. Our journey to helping our military children will go much smoother with your best wishes, your prayers, and—if you were so inclined—your help and support. Be sure to check us out at www.unitedthroughreading.org.
Until my next blog . . .