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Nonprofit connects service members with their families through books

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Posted at 9:58 AM, Feb 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-02 12:28:09-05

As research has shown, reading aloud to children is one of the most important things you can do to help them achieve academic success. That's why United Through Reading is helping millions of military service members read to their kids, while they're deployed or separated.

CEO Dr. Sally Zoll said it's a simple concept with a profound effect.

“We provide them the opportunity to be video recorded reading a book,” Zoll said. “We get the video sent home to the kiddos, the book sent home to the kiddos so that the children at home can feel connected to mom or dad while their parent is away.”

The nonprofit sends packages of books to military command posts everywhere.

“They’re classics; they're books that apply to times when you’re separated from your child,” Zoll said. “The famous book, Duck on a Bike, lots of people choose that because they know the child at home is learning to ride a (bike). Happy birthday, first day of kindergarten. Oh, the Places You'll Go! for graduation. If you can’t be in your mama’s lap, at least if you can see mama reading to you. It's close to the same thing.”

When little Noah was just 10 months old, his mom Ciaria Meyers, a petty officer third class in the Navy, was called out to sea.

“I missed a lot. When you think about first steps, first words, teeth, I missed all that,” the mom, who just wanted to be identified by her first name, said.

Meyers' job aboard the ship was to help move military aircraft. It was a huge responsibility, but leaving Noah left a huge hole in her heart.

She had heard other service members talking about United Through Reading, and she went for it.

“Every night, he’d be like, ‘Mama,’ and then we bought him a portable DVD player,” Meyers recalled. “My son would just flip through the book every time I would turn a page and hold it up and want it (to) play again. It was cute seeing the pictures.”

The more than 30-year-old organization was founded for that exact reason: a painful separation.

“My kid was able to recognize me,” Meyers said. “I saw.. I’ve heard horror stories from other women in the military where they go home and (their children) don’t recognize who they are at young ages.”

And now, almost 3-year-old Noah is reunited with his mom. They read the same books and they're transported back to a time when they were oceans apart from one another.

“I really don’t think if United Through Reading didn’t exist, I don’t think my son would know who I was,” she said.I was gone for that long.”

But, regardless of that time, theirs is a bond that was never broken. Now, it's just one chapter in their life.