Joined: Mar 17, 2005
Location: Staten Island
|Posted: Fri Aug 21, 2009 6:47 pm Post subject: Looking Back
From Fri Aug 21, 2009 3:00 am to Mon Aug 24, 2009 2:59 am (included)
|Someone sent this to me today. Doesn’t seem like that long ago.
Strength Through Support
St. Clare's Outreach group continues to fulfill its mission to help
Thursday, September 11, 2003
By DAVID ANDREATTA
ADVANCE CITY HALL BUREAU
Nick Chiarchiaro never realized how much he valued the services of St.
Clare's World Trade Center Outreach Committee until a trucker from
Wisconsin flagged him down on the highway.
The trucker, who had lost his wife in the Twin Towers collapse, spotted
a sticker in Chiarchiaro's rear window dedicated to Chiarchiaro's wife,
Dorothy, who also died in the attacks.
There, on the shoulder of the Staten Island Expressway, they shared
anecdotes about their late wives and the legal and financial
complexities of dealing with their grief.
Eventually, the conversation turned to "The Fund" -- the federal
government's multibillion-dollar package to compensate victims' families
for their loss.
"He said 'What fund?'" recalled Chiarchiaro, a resident of Vernon, N.J.,
who has found solace in the committee, which operates out of St. Clare's
R.C. Church in Great Kills. "I couldn't believe it."
"There are people out there, most people, who do not have the
information that we have at St. Clare's," Chiarchiaro said. "They have
not been exposed to what they need to do. It was then that I realized
how unique St. Clare's was."
Of all the advocacy groups to rise from the ash and cinder of the fallen
Twin Towers, there are perhaps none whose mission has been as broad in
scope as that of St. Clare's.
Unlike so many organizations born of the tragedy that carved a niche
from a primary goal -- such as the dignified recovery of bodies from
Ground Zero or creating a fitting memorial -- St. Clare's' solitary aim
was to provide resources and support to victims' relatives.
That role enabled the organization to embrace the aims of all the
divergent advocacy groups, and is one reason the membership of St.
Clare's is as unified today as it was at its inception in September
"We didn't tell the families we were going to get them the money they
needed, or the memorial they wanted or whatever," said Dennis McKeon,
who heads the St. Clare's group. "We always asked, 'What are your
issues? What do you want us to do?' I think it's one of the reasons why
people have stayed involved."
What began as a response to ease the minds of 28 parish members who lost
loved ones had, by December 2001, evolved into a clearinghouse of
information for 196 survivors of Staten Island victims. By spring 2002,
St. Clare's presence had spread citywide, and eventually incorporated
families as far away as New England and Washington, D.C.
Although the frequency of its meetings in the church parish center has
been scaled back from weekly to semi-monthly, and the gatherings attract
only a fraction of the people they once did, St. Clare's remains one of
the most prolific wells of Sept. 11-related information in the country.
Hundreds of victims' relatives, media professionals and elected
officials from across the nation, receive upwards of 30 e-mails a day
from the group on a variety of issues.
The messages often come in the form of news stories on specific topics.
Other times, they are updates from McKeon himself on conversations he
has had with elected officials. Inspirational messages are also moved
through the network.
Mindy Bockstein, crime victims advocate for the state attorney general,
who deals with hundreds of support groups, said St. Clare's approach to
the tragedy has created a unique bond among its members.
"I get a sense from this group in particular that they really embrace
the family as a whole," Ms. Bockstein said. "They don't look at their
mission as a temporary response to 9/11 and walk away. They are an
extension of the 9/11 family."
"In some ways they're progressive, and at the same time, they are the
classic, traditional support group," she said.
EARLY MOTIVES QUESTIONED
St. Clare's is also original in that none of the eight members on its
board lost a family member. In the group's early days, that fact
furrowed the brows of policymakers who were skeptical of its motives.
But families and other advocacy groups viewed the organization's
detachment as a blessing. They said it enabled St. Clare's to avoid the
emotional entanglements associated with the terrorist attacks and focus
on helping families.
"As an outsider, and not a family member, it was easier for [McKeon] to
go up against the political machines and make demands," said Monica
Gabrielle, a Manhattan resident who lost her husband and co-founded the
Skyscraper Safety Campaign. "He didn't have to worry about who he was
going to insult."
While St. Clare's has maintained its position as a neutral advocate for
families -- every meeting begins with a disclaimer that the group does
not endorse any information is disseminates -- it has taken a vocal
stand on some issues.
The group was solely responsible for securing a permit to hold a second
closing ceremony at Ground Zero last year for family members who could
not attend the official city gathering, which was held on a weekday.
Its most recent achievement was in winning a concession from the city to
place a scaled-down, mobile "Towers of Light" at various locations on
Staten Island, leading up to the second anniversary of the attacks.
It has also been a pioneer in forcing the federal government to rework
the regulations governing the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund to
meet the wants of family members.
"Many of the precedents that St. Clare's has established in terms of
communications outreach and everything have been picked up by people all
over the country," said Kenneth R. Feinberg, special master of the fund.
"I believe they are doing God's work."
Commenting on the second anniversary of the attacks and the relevance of
the group in the future, McKeon said St. Clare's will "be around as long
as the people need us."
"We started as strangers, we became friends, now we're family," McKeon
David Andreatta covers City Hall for the Advance. He may be reached at