A San Diego-based organization is hoping to help deployed U.S. service members read millions of stories to their children back at home this year.
United Through Reading offers military men and women the opportunity to be video-recorded — wherever they are in the world — reading books to their children. The idea is to create emotional connections between deployed parents and their children, encourage early literacy and make homecomings easier.
Marine Corp. Major Zach Embers recently deployed for the first time since having children. He could only Skype half-a-dozen times during the seven month deployment. United Through Reading helped him record numerous books for his children.
"When they really missed daddy or when they were really thinking about it sometimes we'd watch it on repeat. We'd just have it on in the background," Zach's wife, Emily Embers said.
The couple has three children: Johnny, Gilbert and Sarah.
"One night, Sarah was two and she was having a hard night and it was obvious she was missing her dad," Mrs. Embers told NBC 7, "and so I took her donwstairs and put the video on and she actually feel asleep on the couch watching him read to her."
The charity estimates 40 million bedtime stories are missed every year while parents are deployed, based on statistics from the Department of Defense.
"You hear these stories over and over again and you understand the impact it's having on them and impact in literacy and stress reducers and the anxiety reducers and reintergration of family," said Sally Ann Zoll, the Chief Executive Officer of United Through Reading.
Zoll's Army reservist son recorded five books for his son, when he got just 72-hours notice he had to deploy to Iraq. At her son's homecoming, Zoll said her smiling grandson ran straight into his dad's arms.
"Our grandson knew his dad because his dad had been reading him 'Green Eggs and Ham' every day for 14 months," Zoll told NBC 7.
United Through Reading was founded in San Diego in 1989 by the wife of a Naval flight surgeon, deployed when their daughter was a baby. The wife happened to be a reading specialist with a master's degree in education. She combined the two experiences to come up with the idea for the nonprofit.
The organization began with a Navy focus, but has recently been expanding its outreach to all military members.
Last year, 500 volunteers helped service members at more than 260 recording locations around the world. More than 23,000 recorded stories crossed oceans and time zones from Air Force, National Guard, Army, Coast Guard, Navy and Marine bases. Stories were even recorded on USNS Mercy, in Bahrain and in eight major airports.
United Through Reading has a goal of helping deployed service members read 10 million stories this year.
For information about how to participate, volunteer or donate, click here.