NEW YORK – As the nation pauses once again today to remember the 2001 terror attacks, thousands of volunteers around the globe, including some in Western New York, will honor the victims with good deeds.
The anniversary of the events that killed nearly 3,000 people 12 years ago was designated a National Day of Service and Remembrance in 2009, and this year, a constellation of volunteer networks around the world will spread good will.
In New York, Dallas, Washington and other cities, the volunteers will convene at firehouses and fire academies to show gratitude for first responders by painting and cleaning the facilities.
In Buffalo, about 250 volunteers will participate in local projects for the 9/11 National Day of Service.
The workers will tackle interior and exterior repairs and the installation of carbon monoxide detectors at two emergency housing shelters – the Peter Young Housing Altamont Program and the Little Portion Friary Project.
Volunteers also will do extensive landscaping restoration work at Delaware Park.
Participating organizations include the Volunteer Center at the Service Collaborative of Western New York, the Retired Senior Volunteer Program of Erie County, the Amanda Hansen Foundation, the Home Depot Foundation, Team Depot, AmeriCorps and the Buffalo Olmsted Conservancy.
In Boston, the Massachusetts Military Heroes Fund is organizing a care package drive for active duty military service members and homeless veterans.
In Seattle, the nonprofit group Habitat for Humanity is organizing a special interfaith building ceremony.
It’s impossible to say just how many people will participate, but thousands have pledged to perform a good deed on Sept. 11 on the website 911day.org.
“We get about 50,000 posts each year from people saying what good deeds they’re going to do for 9/11,” said David Paine, who helped found the day of service in 2002 with his friend Jay Winuk, whose brother was killed at the World Trade Center.
“This week alone, we had 19,000 posted on our website.”
People have promised to give blood, donate books, pass out blankets at homeless shelters and volunteer at soup kitchens, among other things. One man is flying from Los Angeles to New York handing out Starbucks gift cards to the flight crew, Paine said.
“It’s very inspiring, to be honest with you,” he said. “Our goal all along was just that something good would come from the day.”
Meanwhile, when this year’s Sept. 11 anniversary ceremony unfolds today at ground zero, the mayor who has helped orchestrate the observances from their start will be watching for his last time in office – and saying nothing.
Over his years as mayor and chairman of the National Sept. 11 Memorial & Museum, Michael R. Bloomberg has sometimes tangled with victims’ relatives, religious leaders and other elected officials over an event steeped in symbolism and emotion.
But his administration has largely succeeded at its goal of keeping the commemoration centered on the attacks’ victims and their families and relatively free of political image-making. In that spirit, no politicians – including the mayor – were allowed to speak last year, and that also will be the case this year.
Memorial organizers expect to take primary responsibility for the ceremony next year and say they plan to continue focusing the event on victims’ loved ones, even as the forthcoming museum creates a new, broader framework for remembering 9/11.
“As things evolve in the future, the focus on the remembrance is going to stay sacrosanct,” memorial President Joe Daniels said.
At this morning’s ceremony on the 2-year-old memorial plaza, relatives will again read the names of the nearly 3,000 people who died when hijacked jets crashed into the World Trade Center’s twin towers, the Pentagon and a field near Shanksville, Pa.
Readers also will recite the 1993 trade center bombing victims’ names.
At the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, where today’s ceremony will include bell-ringing and wreath-laying, officials gathered Tuesday to mark the start of construction on a visitor center. The Pentagon plans a morning ceremony for victims’ relatives and survivors of the attacks, with wreath-laying and remarks from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and other officials, and an afternoon observance for Pentagon workers.
Back in New York, by next year’s anniversary, Bloomberg will be out of office, and the museum is expected to be open beneath the memorial plaza. While the memorial honors those killed, the museum is intended to present a broader picture of 9/11, including the experiences of survivors and first responders.
But the organizers expect they “will always keep the focus on the families on the anniversary,” Daniels said. “We see ourselves as carrying on a legacy.”
That focus was clear as relatives gathered last September on the tree-laden plaza, with a smaller crowd than in some prior years. After the throng and fervor that attended the 10th anniversary, “there was something very, very different about it,” said Charles Wolf, whose wife, Katherine, was killed in the trade center’s north tower. “It felt almost cemetery-ish, but not really. It felt natural.”