ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – More than 1,700 family members of fallen military heroes were joined by actor Gary Sinise at Walt Disney World this week to take part in a five-day experience designed to aid in their grieving process.
The all-expenses paid annual trip is part of the Gary Sinise Foundation's Snowball Express.
The program began in 2006 with a letter written by a fallen soldier to his wife, which expressed a wish that his family visit Disneyland. From that, Snowball Express was created to bring together children and surviving spouses for a healing retreat.
"I've gotten to know a lot of these families. I love them and I want to just do something to help them through," Sinise said.
Organizers of the program said it offers an escape for military relatives, but also focuses on healing through therapeutic programs and support.
"The important ingredient is that these kids meet each other and they know they're not alone," Sinise said. "They make friendships that last a lifetime."
According to the Gary Sinise Foundation, the trip was funded through donors, its airlines partner American Airlines, along with corporate partners Owens Corning, ATD, Aerotek WoodmenLife and Highland Capital Management.
The families invited for the retreat came from 87 cities throughout the world, the organization said. They arrived on Dec. 7 and were scheduled to return home Dec. 11, following a concert from Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band.