September 11 Tribute Reminds Us of Endless Ways to Serve

Idealist’s Joanna Eng — who usually blogs at the Idealist in NYC blog — graciously attended last Friday’s September 11th event and permitted me to cross-post her account of the event.

The Roots

Photo from Be the Change Inc's Flickr Feed

Last Friday, a rainy and significant day, I was in attendance as 26 speakers and entertainers—including Hillary Clinton, David Paterson, Caroline Kennedy, Gavin DeGraw, and the Roots—came to the Beacon Theater on Friday evening to commemorate the newly-deemed September 11 National Day of Service and Remembrance. The audience was mostly families of 9/11 victims, as well as many other people involved in service (including a large number of red-jacketed City Year corps members).

Besides being a tribute to 9/11 heroes and their families, the whole event was a reminder of the many ways to serve.

To fit the theme, the night started with a quick and simple “service in your seat” activity: While waiting for the program to begin, audience members inscribed inspiring notes to public elementary school students, who would be receiving donated books from Target.

When the program began, we were reminded of the variety of impromptu acts of service, big and small, that took place on September 11 and beyond: Governor Paterson mentioned parents who took home children that day who weren’t even their own. Fire Chief Jim Riches spoke of how he led the search for missing people at Ground Zero for eight straight months after 9/11. He also sang the praises of those volunteers who cooked the firefighters meals every day for six or eight months. Senator Charles Schumer recalled how his daughter, who was then a student at Stuyvesant High School, had stayed behind to help an elderly teacher down the stairs in order to evacuate the school. He also recounted the story of a downtown shoe merchant who gave new sneakers out to women who couldn’t run in their high heels. Alice Hoagland told us about her son Mark Bingham, who did his part by storming the cockpit of United Airlines Flight 93 to re-direct the plane away from Washington, D.C.

Hillary Clinton

From Be the Change Inc.'s Flickr Feed

So many of the acts of kindness performed on and after 9/11 inspired others to take action too: Secretary of State Clinton marveled at the thousands of people from out of town who converged on our city to help with relief and recovery efforts, and people across the country who organized benefit concerts to help fund relief efforts. A few years later, many New Yorkers decided to return the favor by traveling down to Louisiana and Mississippi to assist with relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina. After Cindy McGinty’s husband was killed on September 11, her neighbor, who had a local landscaping business, came to mow her lawn for free every single week for eight years, until McGinty moved out of town. She later decided to help start the nonprofit Massachusetts Military Heroes Fund and serve on its board of directors, but she said that she would never have thought of doing anything like that if her generous neighbor hadn’t inspired her towards service. Glenn Winuk was a volunteer firefighter from Jericho, Long Island, who lost his life in the 9/11 attacks. His death and service propelled his brother, Jay Winuk, to co-found My Good Deed.

In his closing speech, Winuk described the Day of Service and Remembrance as a “forward-looking, caring, useful way” for us to remember September 11. Another speaker, Nicola Goren (acting CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service, which runs AmeriCorps), saw it as just one more way to formalize the fact that “a bona fide compassion boom is evident.” People throughout the country found ways to volunteer on Friday, but my guess is that for most of them (and most of us at the event that evening), the commitment to public service lasts year round.

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