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EWI Fellow supports Snowball Express program for children of fallen military heroes
Posted Tuesday, April 02, 2019


Capt Caleb Leestma, La Quinta Hotels Education with Industry Fellow

Capt Caleb Leestma with NASA Astronaut Randy "Komrade" Bresnik, and Jake Pain from Wyndham Hotels & Resorts Global Sales during La Quinta Hotels’ Snowball Express – a program serving the children of fallen military heroes (Photo by Ms. Patricia Turner from La Quinta Hotels)

As an Education with Industry (EWI) fellow with La Quinta Hotels, one of Capt Caleb Leestma’s projects is working with their veteran initiatives programs.  In December, he helped La Quinta support the Snowball Express, a program run by the Gary Sinise Foundation to serve the children of fallen military heroes, surviving spouses, and Gold Star families.  An important aspect of this program is its annual four-day experience where Snowball Express brings 1,700+ family members together from all around the nation to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida to bond with the only people who can truly understand their loss:  one another.

For the past three years, La Quinta has supported Snowball Express in various capacities including funding, managing, and running the Kids Club, a fun-filled lounge for kids, ages 5-11 years old.  Capt Leestma worked with a team from La Quinta to organize, train, and coordinate over 150 volunteers to provide various games and activities to entertain the 500+ kids and provide them an opportunity to bond with fellow kids who are going through the same life challenges.

“This experience was physically and emotionally demanding, but extremely rewarding,” shared Leestma.  “Some kids would want to open up and talk about their lost parent and other kids just wanted to blow off some steam and enjoy the activities.  To be able to play a small part in these families lives to help give them some smiles during a challenging time is an experience I will hold onto for the rest of my life.  This experience serves as a reminder that our country will never forget our fallen heroes and the thousands of military families left behind.”

EWI, a program sponsored by SAF/AQH and managed by the Air Force Institute of Technology, is a highly selective, competitive non-degree educational assignment within an industry related to the fellow’s career field. 

The program is designed to develop qualities and abilities in selected officers and civilians necessary for effective management, professional, and technical leadership; and to provide an understanding of organizational structure, management methods, and technologies of modern industry.  By studying the best practices of industry, students are able to bring new knowledge, understanding, and empathy back into the Air Force to improve its processes.  In turn, the company benefits by receiving the fellow’s experience and perspective.