Connecting Military Families in 2020, No Matter What
December 29, 2020
2020 brought new challenges for all of us around the world that no one could have ever imagined. But through it all, United Through Reading remained focused on keeping military families connected through storytime.
Our mission to connect military families, no matter the distance, became even more important this year as 54,000 National Guard and Reserve members were activated to fight the global pandemic. Service members’ time away from family increased as they faced mandatory quarantine times, adding 2-4 weeks away from their family on top of their already demanding training and deployment schedules.
In spite of it all, we look back at 2020 with pride and optimism. We are incredibly proud of the creative and challenging work we have done together during these extraordinary times to make sure no obstacle stood in the way of our service members and veterans using United Through Reading to stay connected to their families and continue their family routines.
We made sure military families always had access to books.
When COVID-19 closed facilities and slowed mail to overseas locations, many service members were unable to access our books. Thanks to our partners at Elva Resa Publishing, we were able to obtain PDF versions of books for service members to read and physical books to be mailed to children to enjoy with their story.
In October, we launched eBooks within our mobile reading app, partnering with learning technology company Houghton Mifflin Harcourt to start our app library with 5 books, making it easier than ever to record stories. Physical books were also donated to accompany each story recorded. We are excited to add more books in 2021!
We made READiness a priority.
In May we launched READiness365, focused on how United Through Reading helps military families maintain connections, reinforce family routines, provide reliable communication, and promote daily reading. Our Keystone Partner, Reader’s Digest Foundation, announced their visionary $2 million gift over three years, helping ensure every military family can continue to read together every day, no matter the distance!
Two military kids – Luke Haskin and, MLB Player, Sean Doolittle talked about their favorite books and what it is like to be a military kid. We also enjoyed storytime with Mrs. Hollyanne Milley, who read one of our favorite and most popular books of the year – Germs Are Not For Sharing.
We became experts at virtual events.
There’s nothing we love more than connecting with military families in person! But this year brought new obstacles to one-on-one engagement. Instead, we took part in over 290 virtual and drive-thru events – sometimes five at a time – to spread awareness about United Through Reading and to teach people how to use our app. We “saw” you all at MilSpouseFest, Yellow Ribbon events, our READiness365 launch, Storybook Chapters, and countless virtual meetings and webinars.
We were award-winning and award-giving.
United Through Reading won Jumpstart’s “Bringing the Story to Life” Award as part of the annual Read for the Record campaign. We joined over 2.24 million adults and children, including 4,000 military families, who read Evelyn Del Rey Is Moving Away on the same day, and our incredible video of members from all six service branches reading the book was celebrated.
We also won a 2020 EdTech Award for our Mobile Story Station. Complete with lighting, a camera, books, and a comfy chair – the Mobile Story Station is ready to go and meet service members where they are – at work, out in the community, and at special events.
In November, our annual Storybook Ball moved online to Storybook Chapters where four families shared how UTR helps their families stay connected through extended deployments and long trips away from home. We honored author Brad Meltzer with the Audrey Geisel Friend of Military Children Award and VADM DeWolfe Miller and Mrs. Ellen Miller with our Storybook Champions Award.
We kept over 36,000 military family members connected.
Following COVID guidelines, we focused on our free and secure App as the perfect way to make recordings this year. From the comfort of home or in a hotel room while quarantined, the App is always available. To make the App even more fun, we launched reading and recording challenges allowing families to earn prizes for the stories they read on the app. While the prizes are a fun incentive, the true gift is the library of stories built up for the next time the service members are apart from their family. They were such a success that we are planning more for next year – stay tuned to find out more about those in January.
For us, 2020 continues to serve as proof of what we can accomplish when we stand together, and for whatever comes in 2021. These sustained efforts are impossible without you, which is why we are so thankful for you.