On Dec. 7, nearly 1,000 American Airlines team member volunteers worked with the Gary Sinise Foundation to bring more than 1,700 family members of fallen soldiers to Orlando, Florida, for five days of fun and fellowship at the 14th Annual Snowball Express. The event offers inspirational programs, fostering critical peer-to-peer support for them during the holiday season.
During the trip, families visited Walt Disney World® Resort in Orlando, Florida, where they had direct access to complimentary resources such as counseling services; application support for educational scholarships; education about and access to medical and government benefits; financial counseling and assistance; mentoring; and aid for those with special needs or disabilities. Gary Sinise Foundation Snowball Express (GSF SBE) offered a variety of activities and entertainment, including a concert from Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band.
“The Gary Sinise Foundation Snowball Express annual event is about honoring our fallen heroes and their families, who continue, day in and day out, to endure the cost of war,” said Elizabeth Fields, COO of the Gary Sinise Foundation. “While we can never truly repay the debt we owe these families, we can strive to show each of them our appreciation and gratitude whenever and wherever possible. With the support and generosity of the American people and wonderful sponsors like American Airlines, we are honored to be able to give a little back by lifting spirits as we take these families to the happiest place on earth, the Walt Disney World Resort.”
As the official airline of GSF SBE, American is transported the families from 87 cities via chartered and commercial flights. American’s 13 charter flights will brought the families to Orlando International Airport from every corner of the world, some stopping at up to three locations to pick up additional participants along the way.
“This event highlights the caring nature of the American team,” said David Seymour, Senior Vice President of Operations at American and graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point. “I’m honored to work with so many generous colleagues, not only those who have volunteered their time to fly and serve the families in the air, but those who have spent countless hours coordinating gate-side celebrations in scores of airports around our system. Gary Sinise Foundation Snowball Express is a remarkable program that continues to impact Gold Star families, and it is our deep privilege to partner with the foundation to honor them. As a company, and as a nation, we can never forget those that made the ultimate sacrifice for our nation.”
American team members volunteer their time in a variety of ways, including hosting special send-off celebrations at each of the departure airports, staffing the flights, assisting with activities, “decking the gates” with holiday decorations and providing refreshments and entertainment — all to make sure Snowball Express families have a remarkable experience they’ll treasure forever.
“Ten years ago in Atlanta, my general manager told me we’d have the honor of hosting one of the Snowball Express charter stops at our station,” Nashville Customer Service Agent and Snowball Express volunteer coordinator Tammy Lake-Meyers said. “The whole team pulled together to create a winter wonderland departure for the families and I’ve passionately volunteered every year since.”
Tammy and hundreds of fellow American team members donate their time and talents each year to the families of those who’ve made the ultimate sacrifice. “We hear a lot from the parents about how different their children are when they’re at Snowball,” Tammy said. “They can be happy and relax a little and not feel bad about it. Seeing the impact we have on these families and knowing we’re making a difference in their lives is incredibly rewarding.”
The annual Snowball Express event began in 2006, with a letter written by a fallen soldier to his wife, only to be opened should he perish in battle. While the letter expressed many hopes, one wish was that they visit Disneyland. Inspired by the letter, Snowball Express was created to bring together the children and surviving spouses of fallen U.S. military heroes for a healing retreat.
For more information about the ways American supports members of the military, veterans and their families, or to donate AAdvantage® miles to help military nonprofits, please visit aa.com/ourheroes. To learn more about the Gary Sinise Foundation’s Snowball Express program, please visit garysinisefoundation.org.