In Boston, volunteers will collect donations for veterans wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. In Washington, volunteers will spruce up the National Arboretum. And in Seattle, they’ll help a literacy program for kids.
This year, Sept. 11 will again be a day for reflecting on the 2001 terrorist attacks, but it will also be a time for hundreds of thousands of Americans to serve their communities. The September 11 National Day of Service and Remembrance is a key part of the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act signed into law by President Obama in April, four months before the Massachusetts senator’s death. In his inauguration address, Obama called for an outpouring of the volunteer “spirit that must inhabit us all.” He followed up by pushing for the Serve America Act, creating the largest expansion of national volunteer service since the inception of AmeriCorps in 1993.
For those who have engaged in service days regularly for years, the national day of service is a way to standardize their efforts on a single day. For those who have never served, it’s an incentive to get involved. And for some of those who have been part of the 9/11 memorials to the lives lost eight years ago, it’s the culmination of a dream.
Jay Winuk is embracing the day of service. His brother Glenn, an attorney and volunteer firefighter, died in the collapse of the World Trade Center in Manhattan. In the aftermath, as Americans searched for some way to help not only the victims but people in general, Jay Winuk founded a website to help organize volunteer efforts. He later pressed hard to make Sept. 11 an official day for community service.
“I’ve got a brother who lived in service to others and died in service to others,” he said in an interview with AARP Bulletin Today. “To me, it’s essential that future generations understand not only about the attacks but that they also understand how Americans responded to those attacks. What better day than 9/11 to establish as a national day of remembrance and service?
“You don’t have to run into a burning building to be heroic, like my brother; you simply have to pitch in and help someone in need,” he said.
And that’s exactly what has been planned. People looking for activities that need volunteers or wishing to register activities that need volunteers can explore a number of websites. They include www.911dayofservice.org, www.nationalservice.gov and www.serve.gov.
The many participating groups include City Year, NewYorkCares, Student PIRGs, the Points of Light Institute, Be the Change Inc., Youth Service America, the Business Civic Leadership Center, the United Way and AARP.
AARP has scheduled its annual day of service, which began in December 2001, for Sept. 11 this year. The group’s employees as well as many of its members will join activities organized by the national office in Washington and state offices. Create the Good, an AARP program that encourages community service, has put together “tool kits” that guide individuals to ways to help neighbors.
AARP concentrates on projects that benefit people who are age 50-plus, said Devra Fishman, AARP senior manager of volunteer and civic engagement. Among this year’s activities, “we have a number of people who are going to the Arboretum, where older people like to go and visit, and make it lovely,” she said. “We are also going to 10 or 12 homes [of older people] on Capitol Hill to check out that they are energy-safe.”
In Seattle, the United Way expects its Day of Caring on Sept. 11 to send into the community 9,000 employees from companies both big (Microsoft) and small (firms with as few as five workers), according to Louis Mendoza, volunteer initiatives manager of United Way of King County. One group of volunteers will offer homeless people many needed resources (lunch, backpacks, clothing, phone calls to family) and services (information about medical services and job training) in a single location. Another group of volunteers will solicit donations of books and computers at a fair for literacy.
In Philadelphia, Todd Bernstein, president of the community action group Global Citizen, is helping to bring more than 75 groups to City Hall to explain their volunteer opportunities to visitors. Global Citizen also runs the Greater Philadelphia Martin Luther King Day of Service and MLK365, which promotes year-round volunteer service and civic engagement.
“When you had this great outpouring of compassion after Sept. 11 , I don’t think it was effectively captured in a way that fostered its continuation,” he said. “On these days of significance, King Day or Sept. 11, it makes sense to underscore the importance of being an active citizen.”
In Boston, many aspects of the national day of service seem to be converging—a closing of the circle of Sept. 11, 2001; the wars that grew out of those attacks; and the death of Sen. Kennedy, for whom service was a passion. There, volunteers will meet on the Mother’s Walk pathway that wends through the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway, 15 acres of urban parks. The volunteers will assemble care packages for soldiers overseas, write notes of support, collect food for families of wounded and deceased service personnel, and collect pledges for the Massachusetts Military Heroes Fund. Sen. Kennedy pointed out many times that his mother lost her oldest son, Joseph, in World War II, said Diane Nealon, executive director of the fund and of the Massachusetts 9/11 Fund.
The military heroes organization was formed “largely by the efforts of 9/11 families who wanted to pay forward all the support they got,” Nealon said. Now, they and others can do so on the anniversary of that infamous day.
Elaine S. Povich is a freelance writer who covers politics.
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