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United Through Reading keeps military families connected during deployments

Coronado non-profit helps parents read to kids
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Posted at 8:41 AM, Mar 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-25 11:41:01-04

CORONADO, Calif. (KGTV) - A Coronado-based non-profit is expanding the way it helps military families stay connected through deployments.

This week, United Through Reading launched a podcast to promote family reading time. They also donated a statue to the Coronado Library.

"It makes my heart swell," says CEO Dr. Sally Ann Zoll. "Sometimes I get speechless, so it's an honor."

United Through Reading has been around for 32 years, helping deployed military mothers and fathers stay connected to their kids. The parents record themselves reading a book, and the video is sent to the family.

"It's mommy or daddy on-demand," says Dr. Zoll.

She estimates they've helped 2.5 million military families. The videos ensure kids form a bond with their deployed parent.

"That emotional connection that you get when you read a story together is what we do. And it works," says Dr. Zoll.

It's been especially helpful for Christy VanVleck. Her husband, Nate, is on his second straight deployment on the USS Jackson. He's sent over 30 videos to his 2-year old daughter Amylia thanks to United Through Reading.

"We actually used to try to have him record books before we knew about UTR," VanVleck says. "But any time he would send the book, especially when he was overseas, we never would be able to get the data to be able to send..."Now we watch the entire book. She would get so excited that Daddy finished the book rather than just a 15-second clip."

United Through Reading has more than 200 dedicated reading stations around the world. They also recruit a serviceman or woman on deployments to run the program on ships. Dr. Zoll says it makes deployed parents feel like they're helping out at home, even from thousands of miles away.

"One serviceman (whose wife is on deployment) calls it "United Through Taking a Shower," or "United Through Cooking Dinner," or "United Through Doing the Laundry," says Dr. Zoll. "Because he can say mommy's going to read you a story right now and he runs in and does the dishes. Then he says thank you honey for watching them...

"If you're reading ready in your home, then we hope that your spouse who's in the military can be mission ready and won't worry about you, because he knows or she knows there's going to be a connection with the children at home."

VanVleck says she can see her daughter's love for Nate grow every time they read together.

"I'd hate for him to come home and her to be sad or timid to be near him. She loves daddy more than anything," she says. "To be able to have this app where I can bring Daddy here, even though he's not physically here, it just makes me feel like I'm doing my part as a parent, as a mom, to make sure she's connected to daddy."

For more information on United Through Reading, or to donate, visit their website here.