In 1994, Gary Sinise was cast to play the memorable Lt. Dan in the blockbuster movie Forrest Gump. That role changed everything for him, not just in terms of his acting career, but also as a person. Though Sinise had never served himself, after the movie, he found himself being approached by service members – and especially veterans – who thanked him for his thoughtful portrayal of the character. Until that movie, wounded warriors were typically portrayed in movies as hopeless and broken. But though Lt. Dan went through a lot of tough things that really resonated with the veterans, his character was eventually able to make a new life for himself. What Sinise had been thinking of as a relatively small part in a Hollywood movie had brought hope to many of the veterans who saw it. The actor was move by the soldiers’ stories, and wanted to do something to help, so he joined the USO. But he quickly realized that wasn’t enough; he knew he needed to do more.
From those unexpected beginnings came the Gary Sinise Foundation, an organization that raises money to help active military, veterans, first responders, and their families. Here are a few of the Foundation’s major programs and what they do:
- RISE Program (Restoring Independence, Supporting Empowerment): adapts/builds handicapped-accessible vehicles and homes to help wounded veterans with their particular physical challenges
- HOPE Program (Heal, Overcome, Persevere, Excel): offers emotional and financial support to veterans experiencing trauma, emotional distress, and injury.
- Snowball Express Program: creates a community of support for Gold Star families by gathering them together for trips and celebrations.
- First Responders Outreach Program: provides funds, equipment, training, and wellness programs for U.S. firefighters, police, and EMTs.
- Serving Heroes Program: cooks and serves homemade meals to soldiers at active military outposts to make them feel closer to home.
The Foundation also does plenty of community outreach on a smaller level, too. The organization hosts numerous festivals (including performances by the Lt. Dan Band) to support and celebrate our military and their families. And they’re not all talk, either. In 2018, 89.86% of every dollar contributed was applied directly to support military and their loved ones, earning them high marks among the agencies that rate not-for-profits.
You can learn more about the Gary Sinise Foundation on their website.
And a big, wet kiss from me to all our veterans!
Still with me? Okay. Beloved wanted me to tell you a silly story about my “relationship” with Gary Sinise. About 15 years ago, I started dreaming about the actor practically every night. In each of the dreams, we talked and talked, and got to know each other quite well. Then after a few months of this, dream Gary asked me to marry him. It happened over and over and over. I would explain that I was gay and married to a woman, but a night or two later, he’d be back at it. It got to the point that when we woke up in the morning, Beloved would ask “How’s Gary?” I started to feel like I was being disloyal to her. It was very strange. Eventually, I had a terrible fight with Gary’s best friend, played in my dream by John Malkovich, and that was the end of the dreams. I guess Malkovich put the kibosh on the relationship. I confess I was a little sad.
So I was very gratified to learn all the wonderful things that Gary does for veterans. At least my subconscious had good taste!