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Commemorating September 11th Through Volunteering

September 11, 2013
Ryan Scott

To keep alive the spirit of compassion and service that united Americans in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, September 11th is now federally recognized as a National Day of Service and Remembrance, establishing a tradition of national engagement in charitable acts as a tribute to the victims, survivors and first responders of 9/11.  

The observance of 9/11 day is led by MyGoodDeed, a nonprofit dedicated to using the power of doing good to overcome the tragedy of September 11th. More than a day of volunteering, the National Day of Service and Remembrance is filled with commemorative events, charitable acts and community outreach executed throughout the country by nonprofits, service organizations and corporate giving programs as a living memorial to the victims and heroes of 9/11. 

Driving this spirit of unity and tribute is the pledge of "I will," referring to the promise of doing good deeds of any kind on September 11th to help someone in need, much like the spirit that moved Americans to action after the unprecedented tragedy of the 9/11 attacks.  Everyone, either as an individual or as part of a company employee volunteer program, is encouraged to prepare for the 2013 anniversary by going to MyGoodDeed's website to pledge their participation in this nationwide movement.    

Many of the day's activities will support the types of workers who served as first responders to the attacks, like firefighters, rescue and recovery workers, EMTs and military personnel.  Blue Star Families, a nonprofit that supports military families, is asking all of its members in every state to perform community service for its local military bases, firehouses and veterans groups.  Some of their projects include cleaning up parks located near bases, hosting a letter writing and card making campaign for those in active service and conducting donation drives for the local Fisher House, a residence specially built for military family members so they can be close to a loved one during hospitalization for a combat injury or illness.  

The spirit of this day doesn't necessarily need to take place on September 11th.  The Charlotte Firefighters Association will be hosting its second annual 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb in Charlotte, North Carolina on September 7th, in tribute to the 343 fallen firefighters, 23 NYPD, 37 Port Authority Police and 10 medics who died during the attacks.  Participants will climb 110 flights of stairs in the Wells Fargo's Duke Energy Center to salute those who climbed the stairs of the towers in the World Trade Center.

Corporate volunteering is also an important part of the day.  For example, the employees of law firm Holland & Knight will participate in various service projects throughout the country alongside their clients, colleagues and families. In Boston, Holland & Knight volunteers will be sorting and distributing donated food at the Greater Boston Food Bank, while their New York City colleagues serve meals to the homeless and low-income families at Trinity's Services and Food for the Homeless (SAFH).  Others will build decent and affordable housing with Habitat for Humanity in Los Angeles, Orlando and Portland, while employees in the Chicago and Orlando firms will provide meals to families staying at the local Ronald McDonald Houses.  Holland & Knight employee volunteers in San Francisco will host their third annual Bay View Book Fair for hundreds of children, while colleagues in Miami will be volunteering with Easter Seals at schools for children with autism, and working in Tampa with Feeding America and Metropolitan Ministries to support the homeless and hungry.

A 9/11 day corporate sponsor, American Express, will not only provide employee volunteers but also additional funding to several projects selected by their employees. These include:

  • Supporting the New York Says Thank You Foundation's campaign to recruit volunteers in rebuilding the homes of first responders affected by Hurricane Sandy.
  • In Ft. Lauderdale, AmEx will help revitalize a housing development for veterans.
  • Working with Operation Homefront, employees will engage in a letter writing session to send support and encouragement to families of deployed military across the U.S.
  • In New York City, employees will participate in an event with the 9/11 Tribute Center and USO to assemble bicycles that will be gifted to families of soldiers and airmen serving in Afghanistan.

No organization understands the devastation of 9/11 firsthand like financial services firm Cantor Fitzgerald, which lost 658 of their 960 New York-based employees in the attacks.  Since 2002, the company has been commemorating their lost colleagues through their annual Charity Day which takes place each year on September 11 or the closest business day.  On Charity Day, Cantor and its affiliate BGC Partners, Inc. donate 100 percent of their worldwide revenues to a variety of social service and humanitarian organizations in the U.S. and around the world. "Charity Day for us is very special," says Cantor's CEO Howard Lutnick, "as it turns the most difficult day of the year into something positive and uplifting."  

Indeed, the National Day of Service and Remembrance helps us feel hope for what's possible when people come together to elevate their collective well-being. In the words of the "I will" pledge:

I will remember.  
I will remember those lost.
I will remember the injured.
I will remember those that rose in service, at home and on the battlefield. 
I will remember the spirit of unity. 
I will remember how strangers became neighbors.
I will remember how we put aside our differences. 
I will remember how I felt. 
I will remember by making a difference. 
I will remember by doing a good deed. 
I will remember. 
I will.

On September 11th, now is this the right time to ask your company, your co-workers and yourself, "What will you do?"