United Through Reading board member Gene Zapfel can’t help but be touched by the personal stories that emerge from deployed service members who participate in the program.
Zapfel told WashingtonExec that he is humbled by the work that UTR does, and he’s been a part of the UTR Board of Trustees for the past two years.
UTR brings military families together by allowing deployed service members opportunities to regularly create videos of themselves reading stories to their children, thereby maintaining a family bond while away.
UTR will hold its Tribute to Military Families on May 21 at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium in Washington, D.C.
Zapfel is the group vice president for Unisys federal business. He is responsible for strategy, growth and service delivery of all Unisys work in the U.S. defense and intelligence market. Unisys is a worldwide information technology solutions company that provides consulting, systems integration, infrastructure and technology services.
Zapfel was appointed to his position in Oct. 2011. He leads a team of more than 625 IT professionals across the United States at 25 government and Unisys installations. He has 30 years of experience in management, advisory and leadership positions providing support to agencies within the U.S. government. Previously, Zapfel worked at Booz Allen Hamilton, Management Analysis Incorporated and Sperry Corporation — a predecessor to Unisys.
WashingtonExec: As a United Through Reading board member, what can you tell us about the organization and its importance to deployed service members?
Gene Zapfel: I truly feel humbled by the great work that UTR does for our American military families. UTR has recorded hundreds of thousands of service member readers and provided families at home the opportunity to see their loved ones reading books as the children get to page through at the same time. Through the video outreach efforts of this organization, deployed service members get the opportunity to stay connected with their children and families back home. I can’t think of another non-profit organization that has as much impact on the personal family relationships than UTR.
“I dare anyone to watch one of the short videos and not want to cry. Each story is very touching.”
WashingtonExec: After working with UTR, could you share any specific feedback you’ve heard on the impact the program has on service members and their families?
Gene Zapfel: There are so many positive stories that it’s hard to pick just one. I think my favorite one, which comes up often, is about the service member who has been away from home for many months but who still gets picked out of the crowd by his or her kids because they have been watching them on video again and again and again. While we adults may get tired of seeing a video, the kids seem to love the repetition. And you can see how it allows them to recognize their mom or dad instantly even with long periods of absence. This is where the personal impact of UTR is clearly felt. If your readers get the opportunity, they should visit the United Through Reading website and check out some of the very personal stories that have been collected and are being shared. I dare anyone to watch one of the short videos and not want to cry. Each story is very touching.
WashingtonExec: What drew you to want to serve on UTR’s board and take a leadership role for the UTR’s first gala on the East Coast?
Gene Zapfel: I have served on the UTR Board of Trustees now for almost two years. When the idea was first surfaced to hold a marquee event in Washington, D.C., I could not help but want to be involved. The energy and passion this organization can stir in people is amazing. I can’t help but think that others in Washington will be as impressed with UTR as I am.
“The energy and passion this organization can stir in people is amazing.”
WashingtonExec: What can we expect from United Through Reading’s Tribute to Military Families to be held in May?
Gene Zapfel: Everyone involved with the event is very excited about the great outpouring of support that the national capital area has offered for UTR. You will see it in the level of leaders who have agreed to speak and participate. There will be members of Congress, military leaders and their families, industry leaders and their families and, most important of all, military families representing those hundreds of thousands of service members who have participated in UTR over the years. This will be a great event that will be repeated for many years to come.
WashingtonExec: How can service members and civilians alike take part in the program through either participating in the videos, volunteering or donating?
Gene Zapfel: While the UTR leadership and staff are some of the most committed and effective people I have ever had the pleasure to work with, the real power of the organization is in the ability to marshal volunteers to support the reading activities and get the word out. These are the folks that are on the ground working with service members every day to get them engaged and participating. It’s not just a one-time event. The service members that make recordings again and again are the ones that have the most impact on their families back home. There are always more opportunities to help than there are volunteers.
WashingtonExec: Other than the videos, what else is recommended to service members and their families to keep a special bond going with children when a parent is deployed?
Gene Zapfel: There is no doubt that the videos are hugely impactful. Email, phone calls and video calls are also great ways to stay in touch. While it may be old-fashioned, I think there is still something very special about letters and postcards. While my kids are grown and on their own, I still send them postcards whenever I travel. I think they appreciate that very much!