A nonprofit based on ensuring that children have a relationship with the service members in their lives regardless of distance is using reading to keep military families connected.
In partnership with Veterans United Foundation and local soldier and family readiness centers, United Through Reading distributes “Be Drill Ready” kits that allow the service member to read to their children when they’re not at home.
“Our motto is, that we’re readiness 365, but you can’t spell readiness without read,” said Tonya Wood, United Through Reading program manager since 2018.
The kits – available for one per soldier – include a reusable clear tote bag, two age-appropriate (early 0-6, middle 7-12, and young adult 13-18 readers) books, a stuffed teddy bear, a cellphone stand that doubles as a stress relief ball and additional information about the program and how to download the United Through Reading app.
“The idea is to provide these Be Drill Ready kits to soldiers, for any child that is special in their life, while they aren’t at home, not deployed. So that would be available to them whenever they’re drilling [or in] school,” said Monica Koontz, Pennsylvania National Guard Soldier and Family Readiness Specialist.
Her location received 17 kits and distributed 10 of them.
A naval flight surgeon’s wife established UTR in 1989 after watching her infant daughter reconnect with her father after he returned from serving in Vietnam. The wife, a reading specialist, “knew firsthand the importance of exposing children to literature from birth,” according to the UTR website.
“Our goal is that we keep our military members reading together, no matter the distance, and the goal of that is through the read aloud experience,” Wood said. “Knowing that military members can be away for multiple reasons, our program is designed that a military member can reach any child (son, daughter, niece, nephew, etc.,) in their life at any time, so they can record themselves reading a book whenever they’re away. Their child is able to watch that recording and have that connection.”
The Veterans United Foundation, a community-outreach component of Veterans United, provided a grant of $250,000 to distribute Be Drill Ready kits, and 90% of their employees donated 1% of their salary. The overall efforts led the creation of 4,800 kits that will be distributed through September 2022.
Nearly 20 states are expected to participate in Be Drill Events.