Between all the write-ups about food, drink, merchandise, shows, and rides…there sometimes comes a story that really speaks to the heart. Prepare yourself, because this is absolutely one of those times.
Saturday, December 8th…a group of children sat in an airport at Salt Lake City, Utah. Each had a few things in common with the other children. They were all celebrating the holidays. They were all headed on a charter flight to Walt Disney World, and they were all children of fallen service men and women.
Complete with performances, candy, and even Santa…the children and their parents waited to board the “Snowball Express,” a 13th-year-old program that belongs to the Gary Sinese Foundation. The idea? It’s simple, the non-profit foundation is dedicated to alleviating stresses of families that have lost heroes in America’s conflicts by offering them a break from it all. This year, that break came to Walt Disney World Resort.
Over 1000 Gold Star Children travel w/ surviving parent, 1,750 in all, via @americanair to Disney World today as part of our @GarySiniseFound Snowball Express program. This charter left LAX this morning. I’ll join up in a few days. Have fun kids! We love you! pic.twitter.com/OfMEpVF1er
— Gary Sinise (@GarySinise) December 8, 2018
Drummers, service men and women, therapy dogs, and volunteers provided a fun space for these children to relax and wait until their time for boarding was called. As part of the 1700 children and guardians being served by the foundation this year, these children were able to enjoy face painting and much more as they waited with anticipation to head off to the most magical place on Earth.
Edward Felleson, an Airforce Association member and foundation volunteer, had this to say, “What’s really, really good about this is a child who’s gone through the drama can connect.” For “Gold Star” children, he said, the trip shows that “even if they’ve lost a parent, they’re still part of the family.”
Brandi Law continued the sentiment, “Right now, it just feels emotional, very overwhelming, with the number of people who are here … to know we’re not alone.” “For Braxton,” she said, “it’s an opportunity to know he’s not the only kid that has to go through this.”
Indeed giving these children the opportunity to not only enjoy vacations but to connect with others who have (or are) experienced the same pain is a major benefit of the program. Personally, I can relate heavily with what these children have gone through, and the ability to spend time and bond with others who understand is probably as good of medicine as any. Providing this service is an amazing way to celebrate and give back to a community who has lost so much, and you’d never guess the pain that these families have endured as you watched them laugh and play around the terminal. Considering, it’s even more important as the holidays present a dampening challenge to these special families.
“The holidays are kind of hard sometimes, too. So this kind of re-groups us and we are able to get through the holidays. We get lots of hugs when we go, we get lots of love. We get to see widows and kids we haven’t seen for a while.” – Deborah May, widow of Marine Staff Sergeant Donald C. May, Jr (killed in Baghdad circa 2003).
Obviously, a trip of any kind, even Walt Disney World, won’t permanently fix the pain. But the Gary Sinise Foundation, like many others, aims to inspire families of lost service-members by aiding them in any way they can through their grieving processes. By creating a “stress and guilt” free environment, the foundation has touched many families, including that of Major Brent Taylor, former mayor of North Ogden in Utah who was killed by small arms fire in Kabul, Afghanistan last month.
Fast forward to the runaway (after boarding), and as the plane carrying these families taxis down the runway, more volunteers carrying banners and dressed in festive apparel wave the group good-bye as they embark for Orlando. There too are current service-members rendering salutes to pay respects to the fallen’s families.
Of course, there is no way we could ever repay the sacrifices that these families and their lost loved-ones have made. However, as a combat veteran myself, I am certain that each man and woman who gave their life for the rest of us only hoped for one thing…that their family would be taken care of. The “Snowball Express” is a heartfelt and much-needed way to at least try to repay that debt.
Courtesy of Deseretnews.com