United Through Reading (UTR) will hold its 2nd Annual Tribute to Military Families Gala on May 20, 2015, to celebrate military families who have forged meaningful connections through the read aloud experience and give recognition to the corporate, public policy and military leaders whose vision and support have been vital to UTR’s mission delivery.
WashingtonExec spoke with UTR CEO Dr. Sally Ann Zoll and Event Chairman Doug Stewart, of BAE Systems, to discuss what makes this black-tie event stand out, how the evening brings members of Congress together from across party lines and this year’s honorees.
WashingtonExec: Why are you involved with United Through Reading?
Doug Stewart: I am involved in United Through Reading because of the mission. We as a country owe our military families so much, and this is one way I can personally do something to help support those families. The mission brings families together through reading aloud and provides a level of comfort to separated children in a unique and impactful way.
WashingtonExec: What made you decide to be the event chair for this event?
Doug Stewart: This began with what we called the Capitol Hill Reception that we hosted for three years which was not a fundraiser, but was designed to raise awareness of UTR in Washington. The idea was always that it would become the Tribute to Military Families dinner. Hosting a fundraiser in D.C. has been a personal goal of mine since I joined the UTR board more than six years ago. There was never any question on my part that I would chair the Leadership Committee for the event, if UTR would have me.
WashingtonExec: What makes the Tribute to Military Families stand out among the other events in the region?
Doug Stewart: This event brings military families, military leaders and their spouses, members of Congress and industry executives together for one night to celebrate the mission of United Through Reading. It stands out because of the attendees but also because of the quality of the event. Anyone who attends the event will be impressed with the focus on mission and UTR’s service to military families. I attend many events like this each year, and I can say that this event is flawless. After the event last year I was waiting for someone to say, “This event was great but…” To this day, I have never heard one “but” from anyone who attended.
Couple that with the fact that we have an outstanding Leadership Committee made up of such hard-working volunteers, mainly from the defense industry, and a Host Committee of military spouses that has been “all in” on this event. Both committees work hard to make sure this event is first rate and that it moves the mission of UTR forward. There are so many events like this where both committees are just “figure heads” with very little effort on behalf of the non-profit, that’s not the case with the Tribute to Military Families.
Dr. Sally Ann Zoll: We really stay focused on our mission at Tribute to Military Families. We’re just trying to do a very simple thing, connect our guests with what we do, which is also a really simple thing – bringing military moms and dads home for bedtime stories. And we have a crack team of volunteers working to make sure every moment is dedicated to that. The Leadership Committee is out there fundraising and bringing in supporters of our work, and our Host Committee is making sure that military leadership are in the room so they can see the power of this simple mission. It all comes together beautifully.
WashingtonExec: What are you most looking forward to at this year’s event? Can you describe what attendees can expect?
Doug Stewart: I’m really looking forward to introducing new people and new organizations to the work of UTR and showing those who already know us even more about what we do. Hearing from the families who have used UTR is really a highlight of the event.
To date, we have at least 10 members of Congress committed, and the list of military leaders attending continues to grow. From the minute the guests walk in the door, they will be impressed with the venue, the support staff and everyone representing United Through Reading. This promises to be even better than last year, if that’s possible.
Dr. Sally Ann Zoll: For me, I so look forward to the opportunity to say thank you to our supporters. I’m lucky because every day I see notes from the military families who use our program. Just a few days ago, we sent a thank you note to a Spouse Club that was donating to UTR and we got an almost instantaneous reply from one of their members, “You’re very welcome! My children love to watch their videos of Daddy when he was on the Nimitz, even now that he’s home on shore duty!”
We just love hearing that, and it’s such a pleasure to be able to share that with those who make it possible. It’s such a treat for us to be able to host families who have used our program and let them speak about their experience with UTR.
WashingtonExec: How can companies and individuals become involved with UTR?
Doug Stewart: A great first step is to join us at the Tribute to Military Families to really get a feel for who we are and what we do.
Dr. Sally Ann Zoll: We have a number of ways both individuals and companies can become a part of what we do. One of our favorite ways is an online giving campaign. We have groups of all sizes, from large companies with hundreds of thousands of employees like AT&T, to small offices of 40 or 50 employees, to fraternities on college campuses who are raising money for UTR in seemingly small increments of $10 or $15 to support our work. It adds up and translates into tens of thousands of dollars to further our mission.
Other ways to be involved include joining us at one of our events, volunteering with us, or providing cash or in-kind donations. People can find us online and on Facebook to learn more.
WashingtonExec: How are your fundraising efforts going so far?
Dr. Sally Ann Zoll: Really well. We’re closing in on our goal. We have sponsorships from some outstanding organizations and individuals, including BAE Systems which is our title sponsor. Over the last couple of years with this event, we’ve been able to bring in so many new funders at a critical time for us.
As the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have drawn to a close, public focus has shifted away from the military and military support charities, and we think it’s so important to remind people that our military families still face, and will always face, long and frequent separations. Of course, we have room for additional sponsors at every level.
WashingtonExec: What are some of the highlights you are most looking forward to at this year’s event?
Doug Stewart: Honoring our great supporters would be the major highlight for me along with recognizing many of the military families in attendance. We really want to connect our donors and advocates with the mission so they can see the impact their support has on the families we serve.
Dr. Sally Ann Zoll: We’re so excited to be honoring Representatives Joe Wilson and Pete Visclosky for their outstanding support of the military, and Assistant Secretary of the Navy Juan Garcia will be our keynote.
We’ll also be honoring the men and women of the USS GEORGE H.W. BUSH Carrier Strike Group. They’ve been such great supporters of ours and their families have come to rely on UTR to keep them connected while they’re at sea. It’s going to be a special opportunity for us to let them know what an honor it is to serve them. We’re pleased that Doro Bush Koch, daughter of President George H. W. Bush and Co-Chair of the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy will attend the event and present the award to the BUSH CSG. Mrs. Bush Koch is the ship’s sponsor and has been an outstanding supporter of UTR aboard the USS BUSH, so we’re just delighted that she will join us.