944th Fighter Wing keeping families united through reading

The Airman and Family Readiness Center provides Airmen and their families’ resources to help facilitate a healthy work, life balance as well as fortifying family bonds.

Jessica Maldonado, 944th Fighter Wing Airman and Family Readiness director, is constantly looking for resources and programs to help meet the needs of her teammates. One that stuck out to her was the United Through Reading program.

“I’ve heard about this program but didn’t really know the details so I reached out to the point of contact and started asking questions,” Maldonado said. “The more and more I learned the more excited I was to get the ball rolling.”

Reserve Citizen Airman Maj. Katherine Paolillo, 944th Fighter Wing inspector general, reads a book to her child using the United Through Reading app at the 56th Fighter Wing Base Library on Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., June 17, 2021. (Air Force photograph by Tech. Sgt. Courtney Richardson)

The mission of United Through Reading non-profit organization is to unite military families facing physical separation by facilitating bonding experiences through reading aloud.

“In this program members can record themselves reading books to their children and the program will send the link to the member for them to send to their loved ones,” Maldonado said. “The best part is that the program will also provide the book to the military family for free.”

After committing to working with the non-profit organization, Maldonado needed to find a location to facilitate the program.

“I wanted to set it up but I didn’t have Wi-Fi, manpower, or the space,” she said. “After reaching out to some people I was directed to the base library, so that’s where I headed.”

After pitching the idea to Jennifer Crowell, 56th Fighter Wing Base Library director, Crowell jumped on board. They both agreed that the biggest things they wanted out of this collaboration was making sure it was accessible to everyone who has access to the base, which made the library the best location.

“I was really excited to be a part of this because anytime we can get books in the hands of kids and families it is a win for us and finding the space was no problem,” Crowell said.

Crowell’s team setup an area in a room that lets the participants record a video in a calm setting. After receiving the first set of books, that space was open and ready for use.

“United Through Reading doesn’t have a limit in the amount of books we can give away and the amount of stories that can be told to family members,” Crowell said. “Service members, grandparents, anyone can come in here with a book or pick a book from the library and begin reading. Once you are done reading you can reach out to the program and they will send that book to you or your child.”

The programs isn’t limited to reading to small children; you can read anything from picture books to chapter books.

Maldonado and Crowell went on to explain that members can go to the library to find a book they want to read and record themselves. Then they can reach out to the non-profit to have them send the book to the child, free of charge.

“This programs isn’t only for parents and those who are deployed,” Maldonado said. “You could be TDY [temporary-duty] at Luke, not in-status, working extended hours, or on a unit training assembly. Maybe you don’t have kids but you have siblings or nieces and nephews, or even a fur baby. Record a book for them, leave a little message at the end, and send it to them to see and keep.”

Both Maldonado and Crowell hope that having this program available helps the members to be able to stay connected to their family members.

“I’ve never deployed before but I’ve been away,” Maldonado said. “When you are gone, you’re growing and so are they. You all have different experiences and routines. When you come back, how do you continue to have those connections so the reunion isn’t as traumatic? That’s why I love this program. The kids will continue to see your face, hear your voice, and have that growth bond with you. Plus, you can read that book over and over again without actually reading it over and over again. Parents get it.”

Not only is this beneficial to the recipients but to caregivers as well.

“The parent left behind can benefit from getting a mental break for a minute or helping that child through a hard moment where they are sad about the parent who isn’t there,” Crowell said.

The site located in the base library is the only brick and mortar location in the state of Arizona but that isn’t the only way Service members can also download the United Through Reading app.† Once the app confirms your affiliation through the “ID.me” verification program, they will have access to record a book from anywhere, whenever they feel like it.

“You can do as many videos as you want,” said Maldonado. “You can be sitting at your desk, deployed, on your lunch break, or just sitting in your car. You will still be sent the link and have access to request the book be sent to the recipient. From there you can send the link whenever you want.”

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