Thanks to actor Gary Sinise, best known for his role as Lt. Dan in Forrest Gump, December really is the most wonderful time of the year for children of America’s fallen soldiers. Why? Well, every December, Sinise’s foundation pays for a five-day family vacation for kids who’ve lost a military parent and their surviving parent.
Not only do these kids and their surviving parent get an all-expenses-paid vacation, but they also get to take that vacation in the happiest place on Earth: Disney World!
Creating Carefree Fun For Those Who’ve Lost
Gary Sinise has long been a supporter of veterans and their families. He created his own foundation, The Gary Sinise Foundation, to provide services to veterans coming home from their service, their families, and the families of veterans who have been killed in service.
Sinise believes that it’s our duty as American citizens to support those who are brave enough to serve their country. And he believes that it’s our duty to support the families of military members who’ve made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. His foundation organizes several programs that serve these goals.
One of the programs run by The Sinise Foundation is called Snowball Express. This is the program that funds the vacation for children of fallen soldiers and their surviving parent.
The Snowball Express program has been around for a while. The Gary Sinise Foundation used to contribute to this program. In 2017, The Gary Sinise Foundation decided to take over the Snowball Express program. They partnered with American Airlines to provide all the flights for free. And Sinise used his connections with Disney World to set up fully funded Disney World vacations for the Snowball Express program.
Though Sinise is passionate about all the programs his foundation supports, he’s particularly fond of the Snowball Express program. He has said multiple times that it’s crucial for families who have experienced such a profound loss to have some fun in their lives. This is especially true around the holidays when the loss of a parent and spouse is so deeply felt.
Sinise also sees the program as a way to let children of fallen soldiers know that their parent’s sacrifice is appreciated and never forgotten.
Creating Community For The Families Of The Fallen
Families who’ve participated in Snowball Express are, of course, delighted to get an all-expenses-paid vacation, but they’re even more grateful for the community that Snowball Express provides.
They say that dealing with the loss of a military family member is more difficult when they don’t have other military families around who truly understand the unique impact of the loss. When these families get to participate in Snowball Express, they’re surrounded by families who’ve been through the same loss. They find comfort in sharing their grief and also in sharing their fun.
Many of the participants say that they’ve made lifelong friends on their Snowball Express trip. This is especially important for the children of the fallen soldiers who may have never met another kid living through such similar circumstances.
Snowball Express 2019
The next Snowball Express trip to Disney World will take place in the first week of December. Families applied for this year’s trip throughout the first half of the year. The chosen families were informed over the summer, so they’ve had a few months to get excited and prepare for their trip.
In 2018, The Gary Sinise Foundation sent over 1,750 children and their families to Disney World with the Snowball Express Program. The foundation hasn’t yet revealed how many families will be participating in this year’s outing. But if previous years are any indication, then literally thousands of children will have the holiday vacation of their dreams thanks to Lt. Dan, um, Gary Sinise.
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