BAE Systems‘ Doug Stewart, vice president of Government Relations and Legislative Affairs, will chair the United Through Reading Tribute to Military Families on May 21 at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium in Washington, D.C.
United Through Reading is a non-profit organization that allows deployed service members a chance to be video-recorded reading books to their children. The children later view the videos to keep a bond going with their deployed parent.
Recently, WashingtonExec discussed the tribute, as well as the program, with Stewart, who serves on United Through Reading’s board of directors. UTR is based in San Diego, Calif.
Stewart said that five years ago after meeting Sally Zoll, CEO of UTR, he felt that UTR needed an East Coast presence. Early on, he said, BAE Systems sponsored a Capitol Hill reception with members of Congress who were interested supporters of UTR. The reception was for exposure as opposed to fundraising, he said, but UTR’s reach grew over a three- or four-year period and Stewart suggested a Washington, D.C.-based fundraiser.
Retired from the U.S. Army, Stewart said his military background played a part in his support of UTR.
“That played a big role,” he said. “It’s a way to try to give back to the military families. My son is a major in the Marine Corps and has three children and he has been deployed three times. It just brings it home to me and it is just something that I’m passionate about. From the day I met Sally Zoll and started meeting the staff — it’s 10 full-time equivalent people at this point and everyone else is a volunteer. To see what this non-profit does and how passionate they are about what they do — I’ve always been hooked by that.”
The tribute will honor the U.S. Military Chaplain community, BAE Systems and specific members of Congress including Mike Rogers of Alabama and Susan Davis of California. There are 15 members of Congress committed to attend, 15 general officers and at least 10 major companies, Stewart said.
The gala’s agenda includes a 6:30 p.m. reception and a program and dinner to be held starting at 7:10 p.m.
Stewart said that through BAE Systems’ employee donations and a dollar-for-dollar company match, BAE Systems has raised almost $80,000 annually, solely from its employee-giving campaign. The goal for the Tribute to Military Families, he said, is to take in $400,000 as a gross amount. As of March 21, Stewart said the amount was just short of $300,000 with more time to go.
Regarding nearly reaching the goal, Stewart said, “…It’s been through a lot of hard work, bringing in a lot of new people to our leadership team from different companies… and I’ve gotten some of my friends involved, too. It’s been a great challenge and so far very successful.”
United Through Reading was founded in 1989 as a simple idea initiated by Betty Mohlenbrock, a Navy flight surgeon’s wife in San Diego who kicked off the UTR concept with the U.S. Navy.
UTR, Stewart said, combines parents reading to children and connecting to a deployed family member through that reading experience. It is simply amazing, he said — watching the videos and hearing the stories about young children with a mom or dad deployed.
“They know their parent just from watching the video. It’s almost like they are with them, in a sense,” he said. “When they come home they know who they are.”
Stewart said he’s heard from mothers who say they’ve watched the videos a hundred times with their children who continue to want to watch. Some deployed service members are nervous reading to the children and feel like it’s the fist time they’ve done it, he said, and it’s also a very moving experience for them.
Service members can read from 200 recording locations while deployed, on training missions or any family separation. Worldwide locations include bases, installations, ships, military medical facilities and USOs.
The UTR program uses donated money in large part for program costs, which are the biggest driver and the biggest expense, Stewart said. Acquiring donations has been hard work, he added, and that’s because “with so many companies their charitable giving is a percentage of their profit and especially in the defense sector that is declining, so everyone is cutting back on that too. That makes it tough.”
Stewart said that veterans have been utilized in fundraising efforts. They talk about using UTR and how their children were each able to pick them out of a crowd of 100 soldiers because they remembered what they looked like through the videos, he said.
Books are sent to the field quarterly, with oftentimes a book selection coinciding with a campaign such as March’s Read Across America Day — a celebration of Dr. Seuss’ birthday, according to Victoria Cameron-Lewis, director of Strategic Alliances at UTR.
UTR also participates in a summertime STEM theme and a fall Read for the Record campaign, as well as springtime, birthday and back-to-school book themes, she said, noting that she’s partial to the “Harry the Dirty Dog” series.
Stewart said that as far as children’s books go, he likes Dr. Seuss’ “Green Eggs and Ham.”
Sponsorships and tickets for the gala are still available, according to Cameron-Lewis.
The cutoff date for becoming a sponsor is May 7. Tickets can be purchased through May 14. To learn more or purchase tickets, click here.