Family of 7 Stays Connected with Reading

August 25, 2021

With five children, the McNeil family is a busy bunch, especially when dad, Staff Sergeant Chris McNeil, deploys with the Marines. During deployments, mom, Samantha, is left to solo parent Maura, 9, Audrey, 7, Fionn, 5, Liam, 4, and Isla, 18 months. Throughout his current and last deployment Samantha and the family found comfort using United Through Reading.

“It was such a good thing for all the kids to be able to hear his voice and see his face,” says Samantha.

During Chris’ last deployment in 2017, Samantha was able to surprise their children with the UTR video and story at Christmas that Chris had sent home. “I remember having it under the tree in a little Santa Sleigh decoration,” she says. “They pulled out the book and they were so excited. Then I played the DVD and they were totally shocked and thrilled to see Dad reading bedtime stories.”

The McNeil children continued to watch the “Daddy video” through that deployment. It was particularly helpful to Fionn, who was a toddler at the time, as. he tended to run away with his mother’s phone during rare video calls from dad. “With the DVD we were actually able to sit down as a family and be with daddy,” recalls Samantha.

Chris is currently serving half a world away from his family in Camp LeJeune, so they are once again using UTR to stay connected. This time around, toddler Isla is “obsessed” with watching her dad read bedtime stories and watches his recordings daily. It’s also helpful for Audrey, who misses her dad but can be shy and emotional during video calls. “With the book, she can sit in her own space and watch the recording on my laptop without anybody else around,” says Samantha.

Samantha also notes that having UTR videos as a part of their bedtime routine is a huge help. “It’s really nice to just be able to use it and have it for bedtime,” she says. “Sometimes I’m tired and I don’t feel like reading all the books they want.”

She added, “I miss him too, so hearing his voice is comforting. It makes me smile knowing that they can still have that connection.”

The McNeils plan to continue utilizing UTR and spreading the word to other military families. “To know that there is something out there to encourage reading and also allow that connection and family time is just incredible,” says Samantha. “That’s as good as it gets for us.”