Reality Labs

Helping military families stay connected: Portal and United Through Reading team up

June 21, 2019

Whether during playtime or at bedtime, reading is a powerful way for children to connect and bond with family members and other loved ones. But that’s not always possible — especially for those serving in the military.

Enter United Through Reading (UTR), a nonprofit dedicated to helping military families facing physical separation through the bond of reading. The organization estimates that there are more than 100,000 military parents who deploy in the U.S. Armed Forces each year, adding up to about 40 million bedtime stories that children miss out on. By recording service members reading books aloud, UTR provides their families back home with a sense of connection that’s reliable, repeatable, and always accessible — what if that sense of connection could be shared by those at home and on deployment in real time?

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When the team working on Portal, Facebook’s new video-calling device, heard about UTR’s mission, they knew they could help. While traditional video calling can be inconvenient and awkward, Portal’s AI-powered Smart Camera feature keeps all the action in the frame so families can live in the moment, hands- and distraction-free. In particular, the device’s Story Time feature seemed like a perfect fit. During a video call, Story Time lets one person read a story out loud using on-screen text prompts while captivating tiny attention spans and bringing the world of reading alive through music, animation, and augmented reality effects.

Portal teamed up with UTR to take its read-aloud program to the next level. Recently, they hosted an event at the Naval Air Station North Island in Coronado, San Diego, bringing sailors and their families together with Portal. Each family had the opportunity to create a Story Time recording of The Three Little Pigs and Five Little Monkeys so they could relive the experience of reading the story together, even if the sailor couldn’t be there in person.

“We are grateful to Facebook for the opportunity to work together to help service members stay connected with their families through Story Time and Portal from Facebook,” says Kara Dallman, Senior Director of Development and Strategic Alliances at United Through Reading.

This was the second event hosted by Facebook in support of UTR’s continued work helping military families. As UTR closes in on three decades of fostering literacy and improving familial bonds, the Portal team is honored to help brave service members feel a little closer to their children — and home — while they’re away.