Joined: Mar 17, 2005
Location: Staten Island
|Posted: Fri Aug 12, 2011 2:07 pm Post subject: LOOKING BACK......"FROM THE GROUND UP"
From Aug 12, 2011 to Sep 09, 2011 (included)
As we approach the 10 year mark we thought we might look back as to where we started and thank all those who stepped up after 9/11. Below is an article written shortly after 9/11 documenting the beginning of our organization and the small role we played.
FROM THE GROUND UP
“Where to Turn Inc.”
St. Clare’s WTC Outreach
On September 11, 2001 America as we knew it was changed forever. 2,759 lives were senselessly lost and it would be difficult to find anyone not impacted by the tragic events of that day. In Staten Island, New York the parish of St. Clare lost 29 of its parishioners. Monsignor Murphy called together a small group to see what we could do for the families of the victims. Jim Mazzarella, Tony Cimaglia, Tom Gisonda, Bernice Fisher, Maureen Atkinson, Jim Connors, Stephen Rynn, Jack Lamantia, Daniella LaRocca and I got together and formed the St. Clare’s WTC Outreach Committee.
Knowing that something needed to be done but not really knowing what we immediately asked the members of the parish if they would be willing to help. At once we had over 200 volunteers who were at the ready to do anything from baby sitting to cooking meals. We had over 100 activities covered in a matter of days.
We then proceeded to review individually the 223 organizations that were listed on the Attorney General’s WTC Relief Website. We knew that the families were in no state of mind, or even have the time to access the data, so we did it for them. We prioritized what needed to be done and came up with a First Steps of Recovery guide to what the families needed to do. We listed the organizations that needed to be contacted (e.g., Federal Emergency Management Administration, American Red Cross, New York State Crime Victims etc.) and their contact information and shared it with the families. We then sent out a letter to each family letting them know that we were available if needed and if they preferred we would meet with them individually.
During the first few weeks following 9/11 we received very few calls. In late October, we received our first call for a meeting from the sister of a woman who had lost her husband. Armed only with our “First Steps to Recovery” guide, as well as many doubts and uncertainties, Jim Mazzarella and I met with the family. It was immediately obvious that the family was still in shock and confused and uncertain as to what they needed to do. We listened to the victim’s wife and father and attempted to answer any of the questions that we could. We made sure that they had any applications for assistance that they needed, and made them aware of any filing deadlines that had been established. There were many questions that we could not answer, but we promised to find and return with the answers. We spent about two hours with the family before telling them that we would be back in touch shortly and giving them our contact numbers in case they had any additional questions. Upon leaving them that night, Jim and I were not sure if we had actually done any good. Little did we know that this was the beginning of an incredible journey.
Shortly after this meeting we began getting calls from other families and began making appointments to meet with them. At least two Committee Members participated in each meeting, and with accrued experience, we became more confident and informed. In the meantime we continued to accumulate information and researched the questions we had received. If we could not find the answers on the web we would contact agencies directly until we got an answer. While we were putting a structure to this program, St. Clare also put together a 9/11 Bereavement Program for the families. Under the guidance of Marty Philips, this group began to meet every week. Slowly but surely this group grew. After a while Marty asked if I would be able to speak to them and explain our program. The following week I went to the meeting, explained what we were attempting to do and handed out to the seven family members in attendance the package of information that we had put together. Later in the week, Marty called and asked if I would be able to present again at the next meeting. He explained that he had gotten requests from some family members who had missed the meeting. I was shocked to find almost twenty five family members in attendance when I returned the following week Once again I explained the program and handed out our information. I also told the group that I did not want to interfere with the work of the Bereavement Group and that I would ask Monsignor Murphy if we could schedule our own meeting once a week. For the next year and a half we met every Tuesday night. The local newspaper ran an article about the program and before we knew it, we had family members from all over Staten Island as well as Brooklyn and New Jersey. At times, we had fifty to seventy five family members in attendance. As attendance grew, so did our scope and responsibilities.
The primary focus of the St. Clare’s WTC Outreach Committee was always the needs of the families. We structured our meetings around family requests. We discussed any issues deemed necessary by the families and, when necessary, we brought in representatives from support organizations and elected officials to answer questions or address concerns. I believe there were two reasons why we succeeded: We always listened, and we never treated the family members as victims. We provided an environment in which they felt safe. They were not afraid to say what was on their minds. We gave them an opportunity to vent their frustrations among other survivors who in turn became friends. We were also there, when things needed to get done, to ensure that they got done. Members would often put something off because they did not want to deal with it. As a group, we made sure that they realized that it was in their best interest and we were able to move forward and get through some difficult times.
Over the course of the last three years we covered topics ranging from development at Ground Zero to the Victims’ Compensation Fund. When the city turned down the families’ request to have the closing ceremony at Ground Zero on the weekend, we held our own. We supplied buses to family events during the year as well as transportation to Ground Zero on 9/11. We convened information forums which gave the families the opportunity to meet face to face people they had only contacted over the phone. We scheduled family days and events for the children throughout the year. Most of all we kept things simple. If there was a question we got it answered. If an issue arose, we got it resolved or at least tried. We never made promises that we could not keep, but made sure that other organizations and elected officials made good on the ones that they had made.
Role of the Internet – Post 9/11
As we moved forward with the program we received more and more inquiries. People who could not attend the meetings wanted to know how they could receive the information and support we were providing. We began an e-mail distribution list that soon grew to 1,500 families, support organizations , elected officials and media outlets. With the help of a few individuals we were able to create a 9/11 family network that continues to distribute information across the nation. In the course of gathering this information we met many individuals who were also attempting to keep the family members informed. One such person was Arnie Korotkin.
Arnie was the Director of Community Development United Way and became a 9/11 contact person. In this capacity he contacted local families that had lost a loved one on September 11. In the course of his outreach he spoke with many family members who were in a state of shock and finding it difficult to understand or accept their loss. During a conversation with a mother of four who had lost her husband, he learned that she had stopped reading the daily newspaper or listening to the radio and television news reports in the days following 9/11. Believing that it was essential for 9/11 families to stay informed and connected he began sending her regular e-mails containing articles and information relevant for her to access services that had been established after 9/11. He informed her that these e-mails would assist with the myriad of problems (financial, emotional, etc.) she was facing and that she would have the option to read them when she in a state of mind to do so.
Arnie built on this idea and began to send daily e-mails to a growing list of 9/11 families and organizations. This activity became part of his daily routine and reaffirmed the vital role that e-mail and the internet could now play in the recovery process. No longer did the families have to rely on traditional media outlets. The use of e-mails and the internet now provided them 24/7 access to timely information. Others including Bill Doyle and Alan Duncan joined in the information sharing and soon the network was providing families with newspaper and magazine articles as well as information for social and human services, financial resources, scholarships and support groups.
The distribution continued to grow and now reaches thousands of people every day. We share all new information so that the families get information from a variety of sources. Government offices and Major Support Organizations have used this distribution network to get word out to the families about upcoming events. Press releases as well as media requests are shared by most news outlets as they know that they will reach the 9/11 families. At one point I was receiving over 200 e-mails a day and sending close to 100. Even today I process nearly 20 e-mails to the distribution on a daily basis.
Thanks to the internet we have become a 9/11 information conduit that the 9/11 families rely on. It is important to note that we distribute a variety of opinions and views along with general information. Anything distributed is for informational purposes only and we let the readers decide for themselves what they think is the correct course of action. We have built a trust with the families that we hope never to lose.
Our St Clare’s Group continued to meet on a regular basis through June of 2004. At that point it was decided that regular meetings were no longer needed but the distribution of information and the availability of support are, and they continue today. When we began the St. Clare’s WTC Outreach Program we pledged to be around as long as the families needed us and we plan to honor that commitment.
Where To Turn
Over the past three years we learned many lessons about recovery. We found that too often groups are too set in their ways and too protective of their territories to make changes. Many times this results in unnecessary problems for the victims. Also, it seems that at times researchers and support organizations get so caught up in studies and statistics that they lose site of the fact that the individual victim’s needs should come first. By now we all know that there is no road map to recovery and that every individual has his or her own path to follow. We need to continue to make sure that information that the victims need is readily accessible. We also need to assure that programs are being developed for all the populations that need them. Too often we have multiple organizations competing for a specific population while others who need help are being neglected. Unfortunately, this seems to have become more the norm then the exception.
Over the past year, a few members of the St. Clare’s WTC Outreach Committee (Jim Mazzarella, Jim Connors, Stephen Rynn, Jack LaMantia, Tim Rice and I) decided it was time to address this issue. We decided to take all of the lessons learned after 9/11 and put together an organization that would provide any victim of tragedy a single place to go to look for help. We decided it was time to let any victim know “Where To Turn”.
The concept of “Where To Turn” is fairly straight forward. We plan to create and maintain a database and a web site which will enable any victim of tragedy to easily locate and access what aid and support is available to them both locally and nationally. We will also provide a showcase that will enable local grass root programs to share with a national audience what they have developed. Most of all we will provide a voice for the victims. We will allow them to help us help them by giving them an avenue to provide direct feedback on what is working and what is not.
Beginning in the fourth quarter of 2004, we began accumulating data on support organizations across the country. We first verify and sort the organizations by program and location. We then link these organizations to a single web site and enable any victim to access the data. If your home burns down in Topeka, Kansas or if you lose a loved one in an accident in Santa Fe, New Mexico you will be able to find what support is available both locally and nationally. We will also make you aware of what support groups are doing around the country. Basically, we will let you know “Where To Turn.”
We plan for this organization to grow based on input from the victims themselves. We will spotlight programs and organizations on a regular basis. We will also open a call center so that people without computers will be able to access this information. We will also look for ways to accommodate the concerns of non English speaking victims. We will develop the program so that it is accessible to all populations including all immigrant and minority groups and attempt to address the multiple language issue. We will also attempt to aid community projects for victims and most of all we will act as a clearinghouse of information for all victims of tragedy.
Some may think that this is an unrealistic project. If 9/11 has demonstrated anything it is that, not only is this realistic, but it is necessary. Too often valuable programs never reach their intended audiences. Too often, great ideas never get the opportunity to be developed because they never get presented to the right people. Too often, victims remain victims for their entire lives because they never get the opportunity to know that there are people out there willing to help. They need to be put in touch with people who have gone through similar circumstances and were able to move on. We need to let them know that there is hope and we need to get this sense of hope out to all victims of tragedy.
It is important to note that we are not counselors, psychologists or trauma experts. We are attempting to connect these victims to the experts to help aid in their recovery. We hope to bring common sense back to the recovery process. We hope to break down some walls, or at least install a few windows, that will enable people on both sides to see that there are alternatives. Too often victims are lost because their spirits are broken early on. We hope to rekindle that spirit and bring hope back into their lives.
A few days after 9/11 Wendy Pellegrino found a picture of one of the victims of 9/11 that had been left in a vacant lot near her home on Staten Island. Wendy cleared a small area of the lot and made a makeshift memorial for the victim. As the days passed, more and more pictures where dropped off at the site and Wendy continued to create individual memorials. She started with candles, which were replaced by lanterns. At dusk she would make sure that each memorial was lit and at midnight she would return to put them out. With the help of Fred Ariemma, a local landscaper, she transformed this vacant lot into a beautiful memorial which, as of this writing, includes 188 tributes. She named the memorial Angels Circle and it has done more to comfort and support the victims’ families then countless sophisticated programs developed by so- called experts. A simple gesture of kindness has grown into a meaningful memorial
Such innovative programs will only develop if you continue to get feedback from those affected. We need to create an environment where new ideas can flourish. We need to give a voice to these ideas and maybe get some of these long-standing organizations to make some changes not just for the sake of change but because it is the right thing to do.
Aldous Huxley once said “Experience teaches only the teachable.” We must continue to allow ourselves to be teachable. Shortly after 9/11 the country as a whole came together and many families whose lives were devastated on that tragic day were able to keep going because of the love and support that was shown. Many of the programs were developed by everyday people who just wanted to help. People like Arnie, Bill and Alan who took it upon themselves to keep the families informed. Organizations like the St. Clare’s WTC Outreach program were successful because they were adaptable. They were not bound by any bureaucratic rules. They saw a need and did whatever was necessary to fill it, and many families benefited. People like Lisa Orloff who created Septembers Space which provides a place where victims can go and meet and heal. Simple ideas, great results. We need to continue to cultivate an environment where new ideas in the field of recovery are permitted to grow. For example:
The most underserved population in terms of recovery appears to be the teenage children of victims. While they attempt to be strong for their surviving parent or younger siblings, they are not giving themselves the opportunity to heal. Let’s create programs where they might be able to mentor younger victims at camps or after school programs. In helping others they may be able help themselves under the watchful eye of professional counselors. We can help them without them even knowing it.
The parents of victims are also almost always forgotten. We have found that just enabling them to interact and communicate with other parents has made a world of difference. Let’s embrace this concept and foster lines of communications between parents of victims and let them help heal each other.
Let’s make it easier for the everyday person to get involved. We have already started the “Gift of Life for 9/11” program. Through this program we are hoping to get 10,000 everyday people to commit to either donating blood or performing a community service four times a year in memory of those lost on 9/11.
These are just a few ideas and I am sure that there are thousands of others out there as well. Through “Where To Turn” and the use of the internet we hope to be able to rediscover these programs and share them with the victims of tragedy. We do not have to recreate the wheel but I think that it is time to replace a few of the spokes. We cannot continue to treat victims as numbers or statistics. We must not lose site of the fact that we could just as easily be in there situation. They are friends and, over the past few years, many have become family.
We all need to take a step back and look at the whole picture. On September 11, 2001 America was devastated but not defeated. Families were broken but not destroyed. Our faith was shaken but hope was not lost. With the eyes of the world upon us we pulled ourselves up. Petty prejudices were forgotten. The lines that so often have separated us were forgotten. No one spoke of race, religion or political affiliation. We were one family that had been severely hurt and, we responded as a family. We did not ask how or why we needed to help. We just did. We need not forget how we as a nation responded that day as a nation and we need never forget that every member of our collective family deserves the same treatment today. No tragedy is too small, no trauma to insignificant for it is never too far removed from each and every one of us especially in today’s political climate.
So let’s continue the work of Arnie, Bill, Alan and Wendy. Let’s follow the examples of St. Clare’s WTC Outreach, September’s Space and Where To Turn. Most of all, let us continue to be teachable and never forget that every problem has a solution. We just need to find it.