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Reading Program Gives Deployed Parents a Voice at Home

By: LIFELines

When duty calls, military families must often cope with long separations. Uniting family members in spirit when duty separates them physically is a goal of a videotape reading program called Uniting Through Reading (UTR), now available to deployed Navy and Marine Corps personnel.

UTR is the brainchild of educator and former Navy spouse Betty Mohlenbrock. She founded the not-for-profit Family Literacy Foundation (FLF) in 1989 to provide forward-deployed parents a voice at home, according to FLF director Deborah Loeffler. Based in California, Mohlenbrock's early volunteer work first established the reading program aboard a few West Coast ships. Today, the program is available to all East and West Coast deployed battle groups and amphibious ready groups.

Military families can already attest to the positive impact of receiving taped messages. The UTR program combines this simple morale booster with the basic educational benefit of reading aloud to our children, and then kicks it up a notch with the visual impact of video. With the help of UTR volunteer coordinators, videotapes, and an onboard, age-appropriate library of storybooks, deployed moms and dads can still find a voice at home by reading stories that their little ones can hear and see.

If you thought your 3-year-old delighted in watching Barney on the tube, wait till he or she watches you reading a favorite storybook just for them on TV. Volunteers will teach you techniques to make your reading personal and interactive. You'll be an instant hit — a TV star in your child's eyes — when you "phone home" via this successful reading program.

FLF captures the program basics with video of USS Constellation personnel interacting with their children through the reading program designed for children 5 and younger. The excited youngsters answer questions posed by the parents over the video and kiss the parents right on the TV screen.

Loeffler points out that this program is not limited to parents, because grandparents, uncles, aunts, godparents, and mentors may also wish to read to children back home. This helps deployed personnel feel closer to their family, and raises morale for everyone concerned. In addition, UTR has now moved into cyberspace through a partnership with LIFELines Services Network.