Helping Hands for Freedom is a 501c3 dedicated to supporting the families of the fallen, wounded and deployed.


Helping Hands for Freedom has assembled a rare combination of passion, experience, creativity and leadership to serve its mission. Expertise in program deliver comes from those who serve our country and understand what needs to be done in the military community. Management comes from passion and experience and a willingness to sacrifice and lead others. Leadership and direction comes from business leaders in the community who have built and managed private sector businesses and understand what needs to be done to achieve success at a local and national level.

Eric Snelz, CEO/Executive Director of Helping Hands for Freedom
Eric Snelz
  • CEO/Executive Director

Eric has forty plus years in marketing and sales. He has worked both in corporate America with a Fortune 500 company as well as his most recent ventures as an entrepreneur. As the CEO of Helping Hands for Freedom he brings his expertise in marketing and the digital arena in order to increase awareness of our mission to serve the families of the fallen, wounded, and deployed.

Eric was born in Peoria, Illinois and raised in Indianapolis, Indiana. He fled the harsh winters to Tucson, Arizona and is an alumnus of the University of Arizona.

He joined the board in 2012. His interest in Helping Hands for Freedom was fueled by his son’s experience as a United States Marine who served two tours in Afghanistan in 2010 and 2011. His son returned with a traumatic brain injury and PTSD which exposed Eric to the difficulties and challenges experienced by returning veterans and their families. His service as a board member connected him with Gold Star families who had experienced the loss of a loved one as a result of combat or post service suicide. 

Eric became CEO in January of 2017.

Rodney Smith, President/Secretary Helping Hands for Freedom
Rodney Smith
  • President/Secretary
  • Director

Rod attended the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where he starred as a wide receiver and punt returner. His senior year he led the nation in punt returns for touchdowns. Playing for the legendary Nebraska coach, Tom Osborne, and in the NFL under coaches, Mike Shanahan and Marty Schottenheimer, Rod learned the discipline, dedication, and structure necessary to succeed.

A passionate leader with integrity and a strong work ethic, Rod's over 26 years of experience in the non-profit industry and the financial field allows for Rod to best serve clients' charitable interests. His years of experience working with donors, corporate giving, family foundations, and charitable divisions position him to best serve clients wishing to leave a legacy and protect their estate. He holds Series 7 & Series 65 Securities Licenses, life, and health insurance licenses.

His lifetime of leadership in the non-profit environment has allowed the organizations he founded to serve more than 140,000 at-risk children including over 3,500 military children and families of the fallen, wounded, and deployed. As a consultant, Rod shares with clients his extensive knowledge in charitable giving as it relates to 501c3 non-profit organizations, private foundations, and donor advisory funds.

Rod resides in San Diego, California.

SSG Patrick Shannon - Vice President/Director
SSG Patrick Shannon
  • Vice President/Director

SSG Shannon is a United States Marine Corps veteran with a distinguished service record including “Operation Restore Hope” in Somalia. He received the Purple Heart and Bronze Star for his wounds and heroism at Al Hyria Station in the city of Ramadi, in the deadly province of Al Anbar. He received the Sam Walton Hero Award from Wal-Mart, and is a national spokesperson for the wounded.

Shannon spent six months at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center where he spent time talking to other wounded soldiers. This experience was very eye-opening for him. He soon realized that none of the families of the fallen or the wounded were being helped, so he got the idea of starting his own 501(c)(3) organization to fill that need. That organization is Helping Hands for Freedom.

Michelle Caraballo - Treasurer/Director
Michelle Caraballo
  • Treasurer/Director

Michelle Caraballo currently serves as Director, Public Affairs and Government Relations for Walmart Stores Inc responsible for the state legislative and public policy matters for the Illinois and Missouri region. In her career with Walmart, Michelle has held various leadership positions starting as a store manager, leading supercenters in both Florida and Illinois with businesses totaling over $175 million. She went on to Walmart International where she worked in China with the Global Business Process Team focusing on the operational efficiencies of the stores in market. In addition, Michelle was the Director, Global Leadership Development focusing on the accelerated development of high potential leaders within the business. Michelle is a board member of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association (IRMA) and the Hispanic Alliance for Career Enhancement (HACE) in Chicago. Michelle is the recipient of the Young Hispanic Corporate Achiever (HACR) and Experto Award (HACE) awards.

Prior to joining Walmart, Michelle served on Active Duty with the US Army as an Ordnance officer in the 1st Infantry Division out of Fort Riley, KS where she was deployed to Baghdad, Iraq with the 4IBCT as part of the “surge” operation. Under her leadership, the B Co 610th BSB maintenance operation was awarded the prestigious Department of Defense Maintenance Excellence Award and the Army’s Award for Maintenance Excellence Award (AAME).

She has an MBA from Capella University and a BA in Philosophy from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is currently finishing her thesis on US H1-A Visa Reform for a MA in International Relations from American University in Washington, DC.

Hugo E. Salazar, board member Helping Hands for Freedom
Hugo E. Salazar
  • Board Member
  • Program and Outreach Committee Chair

Hugo E. Salazar is a retired military veteran with 30 years of commissioned service in the U.S. Army. He retired as a Major General (two star general) after a career laden with leadership responsibilities in a wide range of duties and assignments. With over thirty awards and decorations, his awards include the Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Merit, and Bronze Star.

When asked to identify his greatest success or achievement in the military, he cites his involvement in creating The Arizona Coalition for Military Families and The Total Force Team which both were developed to take care of and assist military members and their families. His primary reason for  becoming a board member of Helping Hands for Freedom was to continue his commitment to serve and assist military families.

Born and raised in Chicago, Illinois,  General Salazar is an avid golfer who was introduced to the game at a young age when he started caddying. As a result of caddying, he ultimately earned a scholarship from the Chick Evans Foundation and graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Business from Indiana University.  He remains an avid golfer and currently lives with his blended family in Arizona.