Actor Gary Sinise is likely best known for his big-screen roles such as Lieutenant Dan in Forest Gump, or small screen stints on CSI:NY, but it’s what he does off-screen that has many calling him a true hero.
A longtime supporter of American armed forces and military veterans, Sinise has used his talents and celebrity to help countless military and emergency service personnel and their families, especially following the events of 9/11.
In 2010, the actor founded the Gary Sinise Foundation with a mission to “honor our defenders, veterans, first responders, their families, and those in need.” Now entering its 10th year, the foundation raises over $30 million annually which directly goes to benefit vets and their loved ones.
Take for example Sinise’s work with Gold Star Families — those who have lost a family member in service — and his yearly Snowball Express program. For the past three years, the foundation has hosted these five-day experiences for children of fallen soldiers and their surviving parent or caregiver. Last year it was a trip to Disneyland. Not for just a few kids, which still would be admirable. No, Sinise took over 1700 Gold Star family members on the trip of a lifetime. He, his foundation, and around 1,000 American Airlines team members who volunteered their time, ensured everyone would make it to the event.
“You cannot underestimate the power of bringing all these kids together in a happy environment because we’re trying to bring joy to them right before the holidays, which is a difficult time for a child who’s lost a parent,” Sinise shared for an interview in The Hollywood Reporter. “So bringing all these kids together at the happiest place on earth was very, very special.”
While the trips are a great way to provide a little joy around the holidays, Sinise’s foundation also provides services such as counseling and group activities that help focus on the healing side of things. “It’s heartwarming because it makes you feel good to see the kids laughing and having a fun time, but it’s also heartbreaking because you know why they’re there.”
Earlier this year, friends, celebrities and veterans impacted by his work, honored Sinise in a tribute video that had the actor on an emotional rollercoaster as he watched. Actors, directors, and industry peers joined military heavyweights like Gen. Colin Powell who sent messages of thanks and gratitude. “Thank you for all the things you have done for our men and women who have served our nation,” Powell remarks in the clip. “Not only what you’ve done for them but for their children, what you’ve done for their families, what you’ve done to help them rebuild their lives.”
While we’re not all famous celebrities with a Rolodex of famous friends, Sinise and his foundation stress the importance just once small act can make. The foundation encourages everyone to share a comment or video expressing their thanks to someone in their own lives who shows kindness and dedication to others using the hashtag #GratefulLkeGary.
Hats off to Sinise and all the other celebrities who use their fame to raise awareness and donations for such important causes.