Gary Sinise performed with his Lt. Dan Band in Nashville, Tenn., to close out a weekend of events honoring 250 graduates from the Snowball Express program as part of the Gary Sinise Foundation, which benefits children and spouses of fallen military members and first responders.
“The music is really just part of the overall mission of supporting our veterans and military families and first responders,” Sinise told Fox News Digital. “And so when I play, that’s what I play for.”
Sinise recalled the overwhelming desire for Snowball students, who range in age from 6 to 18, to reconnect with each other after graduating from the course. Snowball serves to hold space and support for healing while families grieve their fallen heroes and also create new memories as they move forward.
The “Forrest Gump” star, who earned an Academy Award nomination and named his band after his character in the film, created the foundation 12 years ago as a way to stay involved on “multiple fronts,” from helping build adapted homes for wounded service members to community outreach and education.
Families were treated to a weekend of fun-filled activities that culminated in a special performance by the Lt. Dan band on Sunday at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center, where 250 American flags were on display, each to honor the memory of a fallen family member.
Snowball Express began in 2006 and treated families to Disney World trips, but many hadn’t been able to participate in the experience the last two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sinise and his foundation have helped more than 1,700 children since becoming an official Snowball initiative in 2017.
The longtime advocate for American service members said getting involved in the community doesn’t involve much, but “just taking the time to pat somebody on the back and to reach out and touch them … to go where they were struggling and try to show support to them.”
He added: “I always recommend, on the veteran front anyway, there are military families in every community, every neighborhood, every state in the country. And if you just reach out and touch folks, you know, it doesn’t take a massive donation to an organization to make a difference in somebody’s life. If they feel like you care enough to stop by or to reach out or to ask them how they’re doing and ask them what they need, and maybe try to provide some services and support to them. That will make a huge difference.”
Sinise began moving the foundation’s headquarters from California to Tennessee earlier this year and is approximately 75% complete finished with the move — no easy feat with such a massive production.
“We had 19,500 square feet in California, and I have a large collection of artifacts and things that have been given to me over many years of doing this,” he said. “There’s a nice collection of important memorabilia I have been given to me by the military. We have had to take care of all of that, and make sure we are moving it properly and securing it all.”
Sinise also recently celebrated his 41st wedding anniversary with wife Moira Harris on Thursday, and while the couple made sure to take time to honor the commitment they made to each other more than four decades ago, he was back to work helping the community the very next day.
The award-winning actor visited with local police and fire department officials in Highland Park, Ill., where he grew up and went to high school. The small neighborhood outside of Chicago was recently the scene of a mass shooting incident during a Fourth of July parade.
“If my family had not been supportive of what I’ve been doing all these years for this, I wouldn’t have been able to do it,” he said. “I’ve just traveled so much over the decades, and if they weren’t supportive and backing me up, and OK with me doing it, then I wouldn’t have done it. But they were, and they are a big part of this whole thing.”
When it comes toward looking to the future of the Gary Sinise Foundation, he admits his goals are “flexible and broad,” with very few limits on where to help next.
“If you look at what we do as a foundation, we’re in a lot of different areas and doing a lot of different kinds of things. I did that because prior to starting the foundation, I was supporting many other nonprofits,” he said. “We’re doing all kinds of things. I just saw all of this as how I can help here, and this is how I can get out there. Some wounded service members need special homes. Let’s build them. Children of our fallen need support. Let’s do something.”
“I just started getting involved on multiple fronts. And that’s why our mission is very broad. So, I don’t suspect it’s going to be less broad as time goes on. You want to hope that the American people continue to see us as a reliable way to help the men and women who serve our country, and we keep their trust and we keep earning their support.”