Smart Homes for America's Wounded Heroes
with Jim Ravella of the Gary Sinise Foundation
For millions of U.S. veterans with permanent disabilities, performing basic daily activities at home can be challenging.
Jim Ravella, Senior Vice President of Programs at the Gary Sinise Foundation, joins host Tetiana Anderson to discuss a program that builds adapted smart homes to help severely wounded service members reclaim their independence.
October 31, 2023
Anderson: Going up and down the stairs, reaching in kitchen cabinets -- it's easy to take activities like these for granted. But for millions of veterans with permanent disabilities, these basic home tasks can be challenging, if not impossible. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. To help ease the daily challenges of our nation's most severely wounded veterans, a national nonprofit is constructing special smart homes. They're specifically adapted to fit the needs of disabled veterans. Joining me to talk all about this program and additional efforts to help wounded service members regain their independence is Jim Ravella, Senior Vice President of programs at the Gary Sinise Foundation. And, Jim, thanks so much for being here.
Ravella: Thank you for having me, Tetiana.
Anderson: So the foundation has several programs that support and give back to veterans and first responders, and I know all of them are important, but is there one where you really feel you have the largest impact? And can you tell us a little bit about it?
Ravella: Yes. So the one you mentioned, our smart home program for severely disabled, is a very impactful program for those families that give them independence and freedom in life. And then also when we support our families of fallen of veterans and first responders, we do that through community events year-round, but also through an annual event that we host at Disney World.
Anderson: So you've got a lot of programs. You're really impacting real people. I mean, is there a specific example of someone whose lives you've changed that really just stands out in your mind?
Ravella: Yes. Yeah. I lost my first wife to cancer and remarried a widow who lost her husband in the Iraq War in combat and had five children, who I adopted. So I'm a father of five Gold Star children who participate in our Snowball Express, which is our program for families of fallen at Disney. And so I've seen firsthand the benefits of that program. I've watched my kids attend that event where they get to honor their father, remember his sacrifice, but also enjoy some time in community with other kids that like them so they're not alone.
Anderson: We all know Gary Sinise as that veteran character in "Forrest Gump" and from numerous other military roles he's played, but he's never served. And so I'm wondering if you can give us a little insight into his inspiration and the drive that really allows him to be so involved in supporting veterans and first responders.
Ravella: Yeah, it goes back to his family. His grandfather served in World War I. He's had family serve in World War II, Korea, several in Vietnam, his family and extended family. And through those experiences and watching the way our Vietnam veterans came home, that was very impactful to him. And that's probably when Gary got started supporting veterans in the early '80s, so 40 years ago. This has been a lifelong mission of Gary -- 12 years since he started the foundation, but 40 years of all his life. And it's really the experience he saw through his family members that motivated him.
Anderson: I know you have served 26 years in the Air Force, so thank you for your service. What does it mean to you to have this platform to really impact the lives of other service members, and how does all this make you feel?
Ravella: It makes me feel honored and privileged to be able to do this job and support these families, having experienced this myself and my whole family what it takes to serve this nation and the privilege it is to do that, but also the cost that it takes. And it's an honor to be able to give back to these families that are so deserving, and so what we owe them as a nation to be thankful for the sacrifice that they make each and every day.
Anderson: And we know that service members are not a monolith. Their needs are ever changing. What plans does the foundation have in the future, and are there new needs that you're anticipating developing services around?
Ravella: Yes, Gary had the vision when he started the foundation to develop our mission statement for not what we do, but who we help. It allows us to adapt and evolve over time, and we continue to do that as a foundation. And obviously now as we come out of a 20-year war and the needs that are much different than they were when the foundation started 12 years ago. Families that have been impacted by a continuous war for 20 years and constant deployments, we developed mental-health programs to help traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress and substance abuse, which are resultant of that -- what we've asked these families to do.
Anderson: We've talked about so much. I know people are going to want to know more. What's your website?
Ravella: Yes, they can go to garysinisefoundation.org and learn all of the programs that we do and the things that we support. You can there become a partner with us and donate. Or if you're a veteran or first responder or family member that has any needs that we can help you with, you can also contact us through that to ask for support.
Anderson: Jim Ravella of the Gary Sinise Foundation, thank you so much for joining us.
Ravella: Thank you. Thank you for having me.
Anderson: And thanks to our viewers as well for watching. As always, for more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the country, visit comcastnewsmakers.com. I'm Tetiana Anderson. ♪♪