For the past two years, one troop-support organization has made sure children of fallen servicemembers have an avalanche of fun.
"Snowball Express" began in December 2006 with the mission of providing hope and new memories to military children who have lost a parent since 9/11.
"The belief is these children should never be forgotten by a grateful nation," said Roy White, the group's chairman of the board and a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel. "Snowball Express accomplishes its mission by providing an all-expense paid, multi-day fun experience for eligible children [18 and younger] who are joined by the surviving parent [or] legal guardian."
Since its beginning, the Snowball Express event has been held in Orange County, Calif. This year will be no different, White said.
"This year, new and returning families will be treated to a new experience with a trip to Universal Studios and 'A Day in the Life of California,' being planned by the employees of Oakley and many other corporate partners," he said. "A return trip to Disneyland completes this unique experience, along with a few special surprises along the way for these children who pay the price of freedom for all Americans every day."
Beyond the fun, however, there is a serious purpose to the event, and that is the relationships that are forged among not only the adults who discover they're not alone, but also the children.
"The greatest benefits are the children being with other children who understand their emotions and thoughts," White said. "It's these new relationships that build hope for the future and create new memories and a network for these children."
More than 1,000 volunteers from across the country are helping to make this endeavor possible. Not included among these volunteers are the people who make donations to make the five-day event possible.
"We know Americans want to help these children, and Snowball Express has become a conduit for all Americans to help by donating frequent flyer miles, organizing local events for the families and providing financial contributions to his main event in December," said Jim Palmersheim, a Snowball Express board member and an American Airlines captain. "I'm proud that my fellow American Airline pilots and flight attendants worked for free to bring these children to Snowball Express last year, and we are honored to do it again this year."
Other corporate sponsors offer everything from lodging and transportation to meals, tickets and myriad other goodies.
Those involved with Snowball Express said the group's new affiliation with the Defense Department's "America Supports You" program will help spread the word and get other sponsors involved, as well.
America Supports You connects citizens and companies with servicemembers and their families serving at home and abroad.
"Very little money is spent on overhead costs such as advertising or fundraising," said Bill Mimiaga, Snowball Express' secretary and a trustee as well as a retired Marine major. "Being recognized by ASY will give us increased exposure to corporations and, more importantly, to families who may not know about us.
"If even one family learns of Snowball Express because of this affiliation, those children's lives and the subsequent changes in their lives because of their Snowball Express experience will make it all worthwhile," he added.
This year's Snowball Express event will be held Dec. 16-20. Plans are under way to hold Snowball Express 2009 in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. More information and eligibility rules are available on the group's Web site.
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service