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Looking Back

 
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DMCKEON
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Joined: Mar 17, 2005
Posts: 22572
Location: Staten Island

PostPosted: 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)
Reply with quote

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

grief-stricken families



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

2001.





INFORMATION CLEARINGHOUSE





"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

said.





David Andreatta covers City Hall for the Advance. He may be reached at

andreatta@siadvance.com.
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