Most moviegoers know the award-winning actor Gary Sinise for his memorable roles as Lt. Dan Taylor in the 1994 classic Forrest Gump and as NASA astronaut Ken Mattingly in Apollo 13. But most fans might not know that this actor is quietly building a legacy by gifting new homes embedded with smart home technology to war veterans.
The Gary Sinise Foundation was founded in 2011, and the nonprofit’s mission is to “serve our nation by honoring our defenders, veterans, first responders, their families, and those in need. We do this by creating and supporting unique programs designed to entertain, educate, inspire, strengthen, and build communities.”
In 2012, the foundation launched its cornerstone program, R.I.S.E. (Restoring Independence Supporting Empowerment), which builds specially adapted smart homes for severely wounded veterans nationwide. Each one-of-a-kind home is customized to match the capabilities and challenges of each family, as well as to ease the everyday burdens of veterans and their family and caregivers. So far, the foundation has donated more than 60 homes to wounded heroes around the country, all mortgage-free.
While each home is unique, they generally include a security system, lights, and automatic blinds that can be controlled from an iPad, as well as more basic features like ramps and lower countertops, and more complex additions such as a therapy pool or an elevator. Other features include entertainment systems, as well as retractable cooktops, cabinets, and shelving.
In the Memphis, Tennessee. home of Marine Cpl. Christian Brown, for example, an audiovisual and automation system based around an Elan Entertainment and Control System was customized and installed by local home automation designer Electronic Environments. Through the system, Brown can operate the home’s Pulseworx lighting, thermostat, Qmotion window shades, security cameras and video recorder, automated door locks, and a Holovision door station integrated with an Elan intercom. A Panamax power management system not only protects the ELAN system from power surges but also allows Electronic Environments to monitor and troubleshoot all the connected equipment remotely. Brown’s home even features a customized woodworking shop so he can pursue his hobbies.
The foundation has deep pockets — its most recent IRS filings show total assets of nearly $30 million — but it’s also smart about seeking out partners. Corporate sponsors include heavy hitters like American Airlines, Sysco, and General Electric, while nonprofit partners include well-known institutions like the Home Depot Foundation, Wounded Warriors Family Support, and the United Service Organizations. The Gary Sinise Foundation saves about $150,000 to $200,000 per home thanks to donations from national sponsors, according to Executive Director Judith Otter. And that doesn’t even count the more than 35,000 private donors who have contributed to the cause.
R.I.S.E. isn’t the only program of the Gary Sinise Foundation. Others include Relief and Resiliency Outreach, established to provide complete support to those recovering from trauma, injury, or loss in times of urgent need; Independent Spirit Festivals to bring military communities together; and Arts and Entertainment Outreach, which takes veterans to free performances at the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago, which Sinise founded along with two friends in 1974. The foundation’s latest enterprise is Soaring Valor, which brings World War II veterans to the National World War II Museum in New Orleans.
Sinise says that he learned what it means to serve from the veterans in his own family. He also directed a play written by Vietnam veterans and solidified his bond with wounded heroes through his Oscar-nominated performance in Forrest Gump, a role which introduced him to wounded heroes around the world. He still makes time to regularly attend the openings of new homes, as well as gatherings and festivals, often at the head of the “Lt. Dan Band,” a wide-ranging rock-and-roll band that has performed more than 400 concerts around the world.
It’s a mission that has earned the actor and philanthropist many accolades and honors. In addition to more traditional recognition like a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Sinise earned the Director’s Community Leadership Award in 2016 from the Federal Bureau of Investigation on behalf of his foundation, and in 2008, he was given the Presidential Citizens Medal, the second-highest civilian honor, which is bestowed on citizens for exemplary deeds performed in service of the nation. He is only the third actor to receive the honor. In 2018, he’ll be the Grand Marshal of the Rose Parade in Pasadena, California.
In 2014, Sinise gave a speech to the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial Dedication that captures his commitment to his cause.
“We can never do enough for our nation’s freedom providers, our heroes, but we can always show them we appreciate what they have fought and sacrificed for, by doing a little bit more to give something back to them,” he said