Because there are more than 50,000 cases of polytrauma among returning veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, Gary Sinise founded the Gary Sinise Foundation (GSF) after playing Lt. Dan, a wounded warrior, in Forrest Gump.
The foundation does all they can to benefit the lives of wounded heroes. The foundation’s mission is to honor the nation’s defenders, veterans, first responders, their families, and those in need by creating unique programs. GSF has established 10 different programs in order to give back to American heroes and their families. These programs are designed to entertain, educate, inspire, strengthen, and build communities.
The R.I.S.E program
One of the foundation’s most impactful programs is R.I.S.E., which stands for “Restoring Independence Supporting Empowerment.” This program provides wounded warriors and their families with specially adapted smart homes to simplify their lives. The homes provide them with the resources they need to overcome their new life challenges. This program has changed the lives of so many of our nation’s wounded heroes. In fact, by the end of 2018, R.I.S.E. will have 66 specially adapted smart homes completed or underway.
Sgt. Michael Frazier’s story
Sgt. Michael Frazier is one of the incredible veterans that has benefited from this program.
Frazier enlisted in the Marines in 2005 and served for seven years, with three combat deployments to Iraq and one to Afghanistan. Unfortunately, while deployed in Afghanistan, Michael lost both his legs and use of his right arm in a terrible explosion on May 20, 2011. However, because of GSF’s R.I.S.E. program, Michael, his wife, Monica, and two children recently settled into their own specially adapted smart home in North Carolina.
Frasier explains that Gary Sinise visited the hospital frequently while he was in Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, but they personally met later at a golf event. Additionally, he says that there was an application process for the R.I.S.E program, but it was more so for GSF to understand his individual needs. In fact, every candidate and their spouse must have a face-to-face interview with the foundation in order to ensure that they understand the process and financial aspect of owning a home.
Customizing the homes
Candidates for specially adapted smart homes are found primarily through Gary’s personal relationships with our wounded heroes and his regular visits to military hospitals. Organizations such as Semper Fi Fund, Wounded Warrior Family Support, Hope for the Warriors as well as previous home recipients also refer wounded heroes to the Gary Sinise Foundation, according to the foundation. Additionally, GSF selects candidates based on the severity of their injury, their family, current living environment, and support from their community.
Typically, it takes the foundation approximately 18 months to build a specially adapted smart home. A lot of planning goes into building these homes, so the first four months are usually dedicated to designing the home and ensuring that it has all the features necessary for the service member and their family. Michael explains that some of the most helpful features in his home are the remote-controlled lights, TVs, door locks, and blinds. Each of the homes are specifically designed to benefit the veterans’ specific needs depending on their injuries, caregiver, and the number of residents in the home. However, the homes have their own individual perks as well.
“My favorite feature is the heated shower bench for obvious reasons,” Michael laughs.
Walls of Honor
GSF does as much as possible to make the entire process as special as possible for the wounded veterans. For example, Michael notes that the Walls of Honor Event was pretty memorable for him and his family. He explains that at this event, many of his friends and neighbors came out to see the home before the drywall went up to write a prayer or something inspirational on the wood. This is a very special event for the heroes and their families, so GSF does their best to make it as memorable as possible.
Gary Sinise explains in the R.I.S.E guidebook, “There’s something about us saying to some young guy who’s given three limbs or four limbs, that we care about you, we appreciate what you’ve gone through for us. We all benefit from the freedom that you provide by serving our country and let us do something for you. That’s the least we can do.”
Additionally, Michael explains that he’s benefited from GSF in more ways than one. For example, aside from R.I.S.E., Michael has also participated in the LA marathon on a GSF handcycle.
The Marine veterans says that it’s pretty easy for anyone to get involved and support Gary Sinise’s mission to help veterans and their families. “People can go to their website and donate or volunteer to help other programs,” Michael added.
Some of GSF’s other programs include Snowball Express, which is a winter celebration for Gold Star Families, and Soaring Valor, which brings WWII veterans to The National WWII Museum in New Orleans. All in all, getting involved with GSF is pretty simple and very rewarding.
OTHER GSF PROGRAMS
Snowball Express: Snowball Express is a GSF program that is dedicated to giving back to the children and families of fallen warriors. Each year, GSF partners with American Airlines to throw a special event for Gold Star Families during the holiday season.
Lt. Dan Band: This 12-member band travels to military bases at home and abroad with the goal of honoring our nation’s heroes and boosting morale.
Soaring Valor: Soaring Valor is a program that allows WWII veterans and their caregivers to visit the National WWII Museum in New Orleans. In addition to taking a one-of-a-kind tour of the museum, the veterans also get to enjoy a celebratory meal, special entertainment, and community with other WWII veterans. For those heroes who aren’t able to travel to New Orleans, the program also sponsors historians from the museum to conduct in-person interviews with them in order to preserve their legacy. In addition, GSF recently expanded the program in 2017 to include school trips to the museum.
Invincible Spirit Festival: The GSF throws day-long Invincible Spirit Festivals across the nation to show gratitude to wounded warriors and celebrate their invincible spirit throughout their recovery process.
Serving Heroes: In order to thank our nation’s heroes, GSF has served over 98,400 meals for them.
Arts & Entertainment: Because Gary Sinise was a cofounder of the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago, he helped establish Veterans Night. For nearly 30 years, veterans have attended “Vets Night” at the theatre, enjoying a dinner and dress rehearsal. Additionally, the program was extended to the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles in 2013. In total, 6,400 veterans have attended these performances over the years.Read comments