The story begins with a Jew and Muslim sitting next to each other…
Really? Yep. Trust me, read on!
During a short flight to San Antonio, two guys sitting next to each other got into deep conversation about life, religion, and travel. Both had come to the USA to study and both had made the decision to stay and build a new life in a strange land.
It was incredibly easy to go from one subject to another, and we quickly realized that we shared a passion for fried chicken (albeit from opposite sides of the counter), driving in the comfort of our Rolls-Royce, and traveling the world with our kids.
We were there with a common goal: to greet and visit with the children and widow or widower being shuttled on their very own American Airlines charter to the 2012 Snowball Express held this weekend in the Dallas – Fort Worth Metroplex.
Snowball Express is an all-volunteer, very young charity focused on providing a great, albeit brief, memory to children of military members whose lives were cut short by war since 9-11-2001.
And that was exactly what we were doing aboard this AA flight. Giving so that these youngsters could forget. For four days, they are treated as VIP’s. From the volunteer baggage handlers to the nametag, everything pointed to the VIP status of these kids.
As our lives are just slices of memories stacked on top of each other, these four days are a wonderful way to be able to add some positive slices within the stack of life.
American Airlines provides the greatest chunk of support though the “loan” of aircraft, revenue seats for those families who cannot reach a charter point of departure, and all cockpit and cabin crew who do this on their own time. Next time you see an AA pilot or attendant, thank them for their support to this incredible program.
We picked up the first group of families and saw that Santa had already made it to the gate and was greeting the children who were anxiously waiting for their flight to DFW.
The crew who would be flying the plane back to DFW
Mr. & Mrs. Claus will actually celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary on December 25th
At our second stop, a steel band was there to give the families a festive send-off. Not shown are the bomb sniffing dog that was a great hit with the younger crowd, and the 30+ men strong Honor Guard.
From the very first minute these children step aboard, the crew does everything possible to begin a memorable 4-day weekend. The airplane was fully decorated prior to departure and during the shuttle to our first destination. A stuffed animal was placed on each seat assigned to a younger participant.
Now, why can’t we fly like this every day. How can you not get off the plane with a huge smile?
Experts are asked to make the pre-flight announcements
Just in case we fill up, volunteers were asked if they would give up their seat and be stowed in the overhead compartments.
Upon arrival at DFW, the volunteers – some 60 to 70 people – made sure the music was at full blast and the volume level of other noise makers was at its peak. For many it was the first reality check that this trip would indeed become a memory filled with laughter, all-day fun, and pampering for the moms. Some families were here for the second or third time; children are welcomed back from the age of 5 until they turn 18.
I made sure I was the first off the plane to capture the reactions of the children getting off the 737.
Indie Racer, the Brit Martin Plowman, was there to sign photos, pants, shirts, you name it. Even the full-scale fiberglass replica of the actual racecar sporting the Snowball Express logo was in the hotel lobby for the weekend.
The AT&T Center for the Preforming Arts hosted an event, there was a Children Parade, there was Six Flags Over Texas, Fair Park, The Stockyards, and Neiman Marcus opened their store so that kids could buy a Christmas gift for their mother or father. Of course there was no register where they had to pay for the gift selected. No parent was allowed in the store – this was a kids-only event.
No matter where the event was held, the buses were always escorted by the Patriot Guard Riders. I am sure these guys were ecstatic with this year’s weather. 70 degrees beats 20 on any day when you are riding a motorcycle.
Martin Plowman posing with one of the Patriot Guard Riders
The highlight (especially for most moms) was the evening at Billy Bob’s Texas in Fort Worth. Performing this evening was none other than Gary Sinise, the actor famous for his roles in Forrest Gump, Apollo 13, The Green Mile, and the hit show CSI New York. Mr. Sinise is also an accomplished musician who not only is extremely liberal with his wallet but also performs for the Troops and causes supporting our Troops with his band, The Lt. Dan Band.
So, were there any slices added to my stack of memories. Absolutely.
Take the 5-year old girl who asks if she can sit on my lap on the bus ride from DFW to the hotel. She talked about her first birthday party and the people who were there then but not now.
Or, the 3-year old boy who held the dance instructor by the hand and did the electric slide and a Texas Two-Step without missing a beat.
Or, the mom who told about her 6-year old insisting on packing all his clothes in a suitcase back in July for his second trip to the weekend party.
Or, the 12-year old boy wondering if Dallas is where his Dad had gotten the family Audi. All he was sure about was that it shipped from Texas to the house in Colorado.
Or, the young man being helped out of his wheelchair and held up by his mom on the dance floor. Smiling all the way.
Or, the love shown by Gary Sinise towards these children, entertaining them, spending time chatting with anyone and everyone who wanted a minute of his time.
Or, the AA crew who gave so liberally of their time and caring to shuttle the families to and from DFW.
What was planned to be a few hours of “work”, ended up being (start of smile and big wink) too many hours (heck, just keep smiling) hours of volunteering to capture smiles and recording that moment in time when each child “realized” it was okay to have fun.
A big smile to the front row family members in wheelchairs
I think I can do it on my own now, it’s okay to let go of the instructor’s hand for a moment!
I am sure this went to Facebook before the song was over!
This little gymnast has that smile you will never forget
She is ready for Christmas!
Vocalist Molly Callinan
Vocalist Julie Dutchak leading the Conga line
I have given time and funds to many charities or programs over the decades, but this particular weekend will go down as the most incredible experience ever. It does not compare with providing Polio vaccine in Asia, building an orphanage in Haiti, helping at a medical clinic in South America, shivering in a snowstorm to ring bells for the Salvation Army, or comforting and holding the hand of a Hospice patient. Yet, each of those – and so many more – is a wonderful slice in the memory bank.
So, therefore my title…. We gave so the youngsters could forget.
In this season of giving, do your share and give a child an opportunity to smile. Whether this is in time or money, please do your part, but….. Don’t Forget to Give!
I know, this was a long post, but I hope I was able to share some of the great moments that were had by all attendees. If you want to learn more about the Snowball Express or want to give a donation, go to their website by clicking on THIS LINK.
No matter where the 2013 weekend is held (Dallas is most likely to host it again though), you will be able to volunteer at a point of departure or in the city that will host the 2013 event.
A heartfelt THANK YOU to all the organizers and volunteers who make this event successful.
Finally, if you made it this far, hit the “like” button below so I know at least someone read this. And, if you actually liked it – share this post with your friends! The more people who know about this fine orgsanization, the better off we all will be.
- Last, but not least – a photo of one of the volunteers in the make-shift photo studio on the 2nd floor of the hotel!
p.s. More about the Nikon D4 crapping out yet again on my next post!