Bringing Story Time Home
Military families stay connected thanks to the generosity of others.
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.