A Tribute to 9/11 and AmeriCorps

by | Sep 14, 2016 | VISTA |

by Tanya Burgess

acvista_0Never Forget. A creed adapted for a tragedy that demanded remembrance, and what better way to remember than to serve?

On September 11th, 2001 four passenger airliners were hijacked by terrorists. Two of the planes were crashed into the North and South towers, respectively, of the World Trade Center complex in New York City. A third plane was crashed into the Pentagon in Arlington County, Virginia, and the fourth plane initially steered toward Washington, D.C., but crashed into a field in Stonycreek Township near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, after its passengers tried to overcome the hijackers.

The September 11th National Day of Service and Remembrance was launched in 2002 by the nonprofit 9/11 Day. The organization sought to encourage service on 9/11 as an annual tribute to the 9/11 victims, survivors, and those who rose up in service in response to the attacks. In 2009, Congress designated September 11th as a National Day of Service and Remembrance under bipartisan federal law, and charged the Corporation for National and Community Service with helping to support this effort across the country. One of the Corporation for National and Community Services’ largest volunteer agencies is AmeriCorps. In addition to supporting communities and fighting poverty, AmeriCorps creates jobs and provides pathways to opportunity for young people entering the workforce.

img_3959This year, the Housing Action Illinois AmeriCorps VISTAs volunteered at the first annual BarberQue event held in Kell’s Park in Chicago. The West Humbolt Park Development Council’s BarberQue event featured over 15 vendors and barbers who offered free food and complimentary haircuts to the community. Megan Hinchy, the Development Council’s Program Coordinator, estimates that we touched 300 plus lives. “9/11 was an event that shocked the nation, yet also had this powerful capability of uniting us a nation,” Megan said. “We hope to unite people at BarberQue in a similar fashion.”

The BarberQue event provided resources to a low-income neighborhood in Chicago and built awareness around the issue of homelessness in Chicago. Volunteers provided haircuts, shaves and shampoos, fresh clothing and shoes, toiletry packages, food packages, and a well-balanced family style barbeque meal; all services and products were donated by organizations and individuals in the community.

This 9/11 service event featured 20 different community resource representatives who offered information and assistance related to homeless shelters, clothing, food access, employment opportunities, housing, mental health and substance abuse. More than 50 volunteers came out, including 18 Housing Action Illinois AmeriCorps VISTAs. The Housing Action Illinois VISTAs volunteered throughout the day in the various tents.

20160911_113109Current VISTA Angela Arroyo works with Latin United Community Housing Association (LUCHA) and recently began her service in June. Arroyo spent her senior year interning in the community development field and wanted to get more experience in the field while getting to know key community members, so she joined AmeriCorps, and so far she loves the development experience she’s gained with LUCHA.

Another volunteer, Grecia Ocampo (shown here assisting in the clothing tent) is currently serving her year of service with the Chicago Laywers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. When asked about her past experiences with a 9/11 day of service, she shared, “I got to learn a lot about the communities around me and their actual need. We traveled to local schools in Chicago and painted the buildings and cleaned the classrooms with more than 200 other volunteers.”

Each year, more than 75,000 AmeriCorps members serve in thousands of locations across all 50 states and territories. Sites range from nonprofits and schools to public agencies, community, and faith-based organizations.

My Thoughts

This is my second year participating in a 9/11 day of service, and as I thought back to 2001, I asked myself, What is the first thing you remember about September 11th, 2001?

I remember sitting in social studies, right next to the large window so I could while away the hours with daydreams. It was a beautiful,sunny day, and it had only just begun. I wanted so much to go outside.

Mr. Montgomery was my social studies teacher, a jolly white man who reminded me very much of Santa Claus. I was living in Indiana at the time, far from my place of birth, Baltimore. This was now my third middle school, my third social studies teacher, and he had been standing in front of the class saying something I found very unimportant. Everything was as it should be in my 8th grade class; it was another day like any other.

I don’t quite remember the exact sequence of events, but my normal day quickly went very wrong. There was no announcement, there weren’t people running in the streets below my classroom window, and my teacher seemed to have the most plain and unfeeling face I’d ever seen.

In the span of two minutes and a quick conversation through the crack of a door, our class became something completely different. After a moment of exchanged whispers, Mr. Montgomery turned around sharply and, without acknowledging us as all, headed to the small TV mounted to the corner of the classroom.

He said simply, “Everyone be quiet. We are going to watch this.”
We watched in real time as the first responders came onto the scene. We watched as the reporters did street interviews. We watched as the cameramen panned wide to show the devastation of the crumbling buildings.

As I looked around at the other students’ faces, I noticed that we all sported the same look— confusion, sadness, surprise. No one spoke, we all just sat there and watched a type of chaos unfold that was indescribable.

If I urge anything with this article, it’s that once a year, if that’s all you have, if that’s all you can give, you serve.