Bring­ing Story Time Home

Mil­i­tary fam­i­lies stay con­nected thanks to the gen­eros­ity of oth­ers.

Farm & Ranch Living - - TO GIVE AND TO RECEIVE - BY AMY RABIDEAU SIL­VERS

Jeff Chase, a lieu­tenant colonel with the U.S. Army, re­mem­bers the first time he got the chance to read to his kids while de­ployed over­seas. That was in 2009, af­ter he heard about United Through Read­ing and signed up to record a video.

When the time came, he headed for the USO tent, picked out two books and sat in front of a cam­era to read to Camp­bell and Caitlin back home in the States.

“He went from mil­i­tary mode to Daddy mode, read­ing Olivia and Cor­duroy, and then it was back to the war,” says his wife, Lau­ren. “Later, he said it was one of the best mem­o­ries he had.”

Camp­bell, now 12, re­mem­bers how the ex­pe­ri­ence eased some of her worry. “Just to see my dad—to hear his voice and see him read­ing a story that we fell in love with—was per­fect,” she says. “It made me feel like he was al­most here.”

Fast-for­ward to 2018. Jeff was de­ployed again, and the fam­ily knew the two youngest kids would get “Daddy books” of their own.

The day the en­ve­lope ar­rived was like Christ­mas morn­ing. McKenna, 6, and Con­nor, now 4, un­wrapped the books and then watched their fa­ther read.

United Through Read­ing be­gan in 1989 af­ter a Navy sur­geon re­turned home to a child who didn’t rec­og­nize him. His wife, a read­ing spe­cial­ist, be­gan the pro­gram; it now serves all branches of the mil­i­tary.

“We are 100 per­cent funded by in­di­vid­u­als, cor­po­ra­tions and foun­da­tions, and kids’ le­mon­ade stands, book clubs and class­rooms,” says United Through Read­ing CEO Sally Ann Zoll. “It’s life-chang­ing.”

Life-chang­ing, too, for those far from home. “You do mul­ti­ple de­ploy­ments,” says Jeff, speak­ing while on leave with his fam­ily.

“As a par­ent, you look for any­thing that can close that dis­tance. This is one way.”

The Chases came from Texas but are now based in north­ern Vir­ginia. Some­day, they say, they’ll call Texas home again. “Jeff and I both grew up in the coun­try,” says Lau­ren— who, as a girl, cared for chick­ens and pigs and worked on 4-H pro­jects.

“We can’t wait to share that with our kids,” she adds. “We know, and the chil­dren know, this is our dream. We will have horses—and the kids know Daddy likes buf­falo.”

The kids know, too, that when Mom says they should have pigs, Daddy will tease back, “Maybe on your side of the farm.”

Mean­while, they bring a lit­tle bit of the coun­try with them wher­ever they go. “We moved to base hous­ing here, and one of the first things we did was put in a gar­den,” Lau­ren says. “We canned our first spaghetti sauce out of a lit­tle base gar­den plot. Those are our roots.”

And they’ll cher­ish each chance to have story time with Dad un­til he fi­nally comes home to stay. Ed­i­tor’s Note: The Reader’s Di­gest Foun­da­tion—a char­i­ta­ble arm of Farm & Ranch Liv­ing’s par­ent com­pany—spon­sors United Through Read­ing. Visit utr.org to learn how you can sup­port its mis­sion.

Lau­ren Chase and the kids— McKenna, Caitlin, Con­nor and Camp­bell—get to read with Dad (at right) even when he’s over­seas.

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