Teaming up to help a wounded veteran
A U.S. Marine from Minnesota who lost his legs and left arm nearly three years ago in Afghanistan will become the latest in the line of military veterans to get support from General Mills, but this time with a little help from actor Gary Sinise, a longtime champion of veteran causes.
Sinise, best known for portraying Lt. Dan Taylor in the film “Forest Gump,” along with members of his Gary Sinise Foundation were in St. Paul on June 28, teaming with General Mills and other Minnesota-based companies to raise money to build a specially designed home, similar to this, for U.S. Marine Cpl. Mark Litynski of New Hope, Minn.
More than 300 people attended the “Stars & Stripes Charity Gala,” which took place at the St. Paul Downtown Airport. Sinise spoke at the event with Litynski and his wife, Heather, in the audience.
“Mark is going to have life challenges for the rest of his life, like so many of our wounded,” Sinise told us. ”Thankfully, folks up here in Minneapolis saw me on television talking about the programs and they reached out to help us and we’re very grateful about that.”
Sinise launched the foundation that bears his name two years ago with the notion to help military veterans, first responders and their families. Since its inception, the Gary Sinise Foundation has raised nearly $9 million.
In one of its higher profile endeavors known as the Building for America’s Bravest program, the Gary Sinise Foundation teamed with another nonprofit — Stephen Siller Tunnel Tours Foundation — to build 25 “smart” homes this year for wounded veterans such as Litynski, who was a 23-year-old Marine when he was severely injured by a land mine in November 2010.
Sinise talked about the teamwork behind the effort to help Litynski in this video clip.
The homes the veterans receive, which cost about $500,000, are specially adapted structures that feature retractable cooktops, cabinets, shelving, automated lighting, air-conditioning and window treatments controlled by an iPad, as well as elevators, roll-in bathrooms, front-load washers and dryers, intercom systems and automated doors.
The Litynskis’ home likely will be built in Duluth, Minn.
Minnesota companies team up
Sinise planned to be in Minneapolis later in the summer to perform with his Lt. Dan Band at a benefit concert for the Litynskis. When Twin Cities aviation veteran Greg Babcock learned of this, he approached several Minnesota companies, including General Mills, and suggested they hold another fund-raising event. That’s how the “Stars & Stripes Charity Gala” came about.
General Mills, Target, UnitedHealth Group and Supervalu teamed up and so far have contributed more than $30,000 to the building of the Litynskis’ smart home, said Neil Brackin, General Mills’ director of Air Transportation.
“We got together with these companies, and said, ‘Let’s try something,’” says Neil.
Myer Joy, a vice president at General Mills and business unit director for Progresso, said the company’s participation is another example of General Mills’ commitment to veteran causes.
“Through Gary’s foundation, we found out this young man, Mark Litynski, was coming back to Minnesota to re-establish his life,” says Myer, a U.S. Army veteran. “We feel very, very fortunate that the Gary Sinise Foundation gave General Mills and our Veterans Network a chance to participate and to help Cpl. Litynski and his family.”
“Foundations like mine need the support of great corporations to lead the way to show that it’s important to take care of our veterans,” says Sinise.
Sinise has numerous armed forces veterans in his family, dating to his grandfather who fought in World War I. A number of his wife’s relatives also served in Vietnam. Ten years ago, Sinise began making USO tours, traveling the world to entertain U.S. troops, often playing concerts with the Lt. Dan Band, which performs up to 50 shows a year.
Katy Dickson, a vice president at General Mills and a business unit director in our Meals Division, told me she admires Sinise’s work on behalf of veterans. She served in the U.S. Air Force.
“This isn’t something where he asked others to make it happen, he made it happen,” Katy says. “I have a huge respect for people who do, not just say. And he’s the kind of guy who is doing, and we’re all behind him.”
Sinise will be back in Minneapolis on Aug. 4 for the second part of his foundation’s fundraising effort for the Litynski family as his band will perform that night at the 1,000-seat Pantages Theatre.
“I’m very, very grateful to General Mills, and the people here who are trying to help,” says Sinise. “To me, this is the beginning of a great partnership, where we can get a lot of good things done. When we get good things done for our veterans, we help our country.”
Editor’s note: General Mills has been a longtime supporter of U.S. military veterans and their families and has received numerous honors for doing so. The General Mills Veterans Club supports employees who serve active duty. The club is involved in activities such as sending holiday cards, care packages and phone cards to troops. Last year, the company launched its General Mills Veterans Network, as well as a mentoring program that matches current employees with returning veterans.