Events around the nation marked the first annual National Day of Service and Remembrance on September 11, an element of the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, passed with strong bipartisan support and signed into law by President Obama this past April.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton keynoted the New York City event, attended by hundreds of September 11 family members, volunteers and nonprofit executives at the famed Beacon Theatre. Clinton described the terror attacks of September 11, 2001 as “humanity at its worst and humanity at its best.”
Clinton praised firefighters, police officers, emergency medical personnel and first responders who ran “fearlessly into danger.” Said Clinton: “Their example must continue to inspire us all.”
New York Gov. David Paterson spoke during the event, describing how simple sounds even eight years later, such as a police siren or even a loud noise, can bring memories of that day flooding back. He called the emotion “echos that haunt us all.” He implored those in attendance to “move past chagrin” because “love is stronger than death” when it comes to memories of those killed that day.
Also speaking at the event were U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.), head of the House of Representatives Service Caucus. Family members of the 9/11 victims also spoke to the audience.
Actor Gary Sinise appeared at the event, with live performances by singer/songwriter Gavin DeGraw, the Harlem Boys and Girls Club Alumni Choir, Grammy Award winners The Roots, John Ondrasik of Five for Fighting and 2009 MTV Video Music Award nominee Anjulie.
Caroline Kennedy, niece of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, spoke to the audience about her uncle and the example he set by transitioning “to a life of purpose and meaning.”
There were several calls for passage of the healthcare bill for rescue workers whose health was damaged while working at the World Trade Center site, also known as Ground Zero or The Pile.
MyGoodDeed and ServiceNation, a coalition of more than 200 national and volunteer service organizations, co-hosted the event. The Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) and the September 11 Memorial & Museum also supported the event. Target and GlaxoSmithKline were presenting contributors. The Jim Fassel Foundation, as well as AARP, Ambac Financial, and Keefe, Bruyette & Woods were also funders. The levels of financial support were not disclosed.
“The anniversary of 9/11 is always a very personal day of sadness and reflection for me and my family, but it can also be a day when the nation comes together to embrace once more the spirit of compassion that helped our family and the entire 9/11 community see us through the very dark days following the attacks,” said Jay Winuk, who co-founded MyGoodDeed with David Paine, and whose firefighter brother Glenn Winuk was killed in the attacks.
“Rightly so the anniversary of September 11 will finally become a national day of service and remembrance and such a designation not only pays appropriate tribute to those who were lost and those who rose in service, but also provides a constructive and meaningful way forward for our nation,” said Winuk.
The event comes at a time when public service is being highlighted, but depending on which poll you read, might be declining in the face of a poor U.S. economy. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 26.4 percent of Americans 16 and older volunteered in the year ending September 2008. That’s a decline from 27.6 percent in the year after the September 11 attacks and 28.8 percent two years after the attack, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
The economy is a factor in volunteering. Some 72 percent of Americans said they have cut back on the time volunteering, participating in groups and doing other civic activities when compared to last year, according to a recent survey.
“You can look at that as withdrawing from civic engagement or you can look at it as refocusing their civic engagement, and I look at it as refocusing based on priorities,” said Michael Weiser, board chair of National Conference on Citizenship (NCoC) in Washington, D.C., which released the America’s Civic Health Index.
According to the survey index, half of the respondents said they gave food or money to someone who was not a relative who needed it, while 43 percent said they gave food or money to relatives, 17 percent allowed a relative to live in their home or property and another 11 percent allowed a non-relative to move in.
The survey also found that the economic collapse is changing public perception of institutions. Small businesses were ranked highest (31 percent) when respondents were asked what institutions they have a “great deal of confidence” in, followed by the scientific community (25 percent) and organized religion (22 percent).
The institutions with the lowest confidence rankings were major companies (5 percent), the government’s Executive branch and Congress (both 6 percent) and banks and financial institutions (9 percent).
“What we found is that we (Americans) were hurting so bad earlier this year that people had to shift from focusing outward to focusing inward,” said David Smith, executive director of NCoC. “They had to shift from being engaged in their communities to really looking out for themselves and their families.”
NCoC surveyed more than 3,800 people this past May about their perceptions of the recession’s effect on civic engagement. The surveyed people were called and asked to participate in an online survey. To ensure balance of the sample, some of the respondents were provided compensation so they could purchase online access.
Of those respondents making more than $50,000, 50 percent said they volunteered, compared to 29 percent of respondents making less than $50,000. Those making less than $50,000 were more likely to provide shelter (24 percent) than those respondents making more than $50,000 (21 percent) and also help in other ways than volunteering (39 percent versus 27 percent).
Millennials, ages 15 to 29, had the highest percentage of volunteering (13 percent), compared to Generation X, ages 30 to 44 (10 percent), Baby Boomers, ages 45 to 64 (4 percent) and those 65 or over (5 percent).
According to a recent study commissioned by The Volunteer Family and conducted by Harris Interactive, some 73 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds in the U.S., or 18.8 million youth, have engaged in a volunteer activity. These numbers are impressive when compared to a 1996 study conducted by the Independent Sector, which showed that 59 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds had volunteered in the previous year. This information also follows the recent CNCS study, which showed that the increase in young adult volunteers aged 16-24, makes up almost half of the overall increase in the number of volunteers nationally between 2007 and 2008.
“As adults, when we see young people listening to iPods, texting friends, or watching TV, they may seem relatively self-absorbed,” says Heather Jack, founder and president of The Volunteer Family, whose Web site provides information to families and youth interested in finding a volunteer activity. “However, the reality is that young people are finding ways to give back in more ways than we could have imagined. They truly have the potential to become our country’s most philanthropic generation.”
The study found that the types of activities popular among all youth ages 8-18 include helping children in need (29 percent), advocating for the environment (27 percent), assisting the elderly, sick or disabled (21 percent), helping animals in need (18 percent), and supporting the homeless (14 percent).
“Today’s youth are choosing the causes they identify with and supporting them,” said Jack. “They are joining causes on Facebook. They are planning their own fundraising events. They are encouraging their friends and families to help out. They are embracing the traditional ideals of giving back, but they are finding new and unique ways of doing so.”
Service projects in all 50 states marked the first officially recognized National Day of Service and Remembrance. Service projects marking the eight-year anniversary of the September 11 terror attacks ranged from food drives and home repairs to neighborhood cleanups and disaster preparation activities. In many areas, volunteers honored veterans, soldiers, or first responders by collecting donations, assembling care packages, and writing thank-you letters. “Eight years ago, the tragic events of that Tuesday morning inspired Americans to come together in a remarkable spirit of unity and compassion,” said President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama in a message urging Americans to serve on 9/11. “In that same spirit, we call on all Americans to join in service on September 11 and honor the heroes of that dark day as well as the brave men and women in uniform who continue to protect our country at home and abroad.” September 11 marks the end of the summer phase of President Obama’s United We Serve initiative and its transition to a long-term, sustained effort. Since the launch of United We Serve this past June, Americans have responded by replenishing food banks, preventing summer reading loss, supporting veterans and military families, and meeting other needs. ServiceNation launched its celebrity Ambassador Program engaging well-known personalities in service projects and advocacy as a means of raising awareness of the new day of service and inspiring the public to action. ServiceNation, a national campaign of Be the Change, Inc., recruited actor Tobey Maguire to head an Ambassadors Council. "The nation’s first Day of Service and Remembrance is a day to reflect and member — but it’s also a day to act," said Maguire, who served in Seattle on September 11. "I hope that all Americans will come together on September 11th and honor those affected by that tragic day by making a difference in their community – not only today, but through a sustained commitment to service." Among the celebrities who have signed on as Ambassadors for ServiceNation, and who share Maguire’s commitment to volunteering on September 11 and beyond, are Cameron Diaz, who will serve in Boston, Anne Hathaway, who will serve in Los Angeles, Oscar de la Hoya, who will serve in Los Angeles and Anna Sophia Robb, who will serve in Denver.
“We are honored to be joined by these prominent Americans who, through their commitment and their participation, will reach millions of Americans with the powerful message that service is important and should be a part of every American’s life," said Michael Brown, CEO of City Year and a ServiceNation convener. In addition to leading service activities on the ground, ServiceNation Ambassadors also are advocating for more funding and stronger infrastructure to ensure that when Americans are inspired to volunteer their time and energy, they find meaningful opportunities to do so. In recent months, Maguire, fellow actors Ben Stiller and Brandon Routh, and ServiceNation youth chair Usher advocated for federal funding of new national service slots. More than 250,000 volunteer opportunities and 2,200 service stories have been posted on www.serve.gov, the Web site created by CNCS to support United We Serve, which also lists volunteer opportunities and do-it-yourself project ideas for September 11.
“September 11 is both a time to remember the victims and heroes of 9/11 and to honor their memory through service to others,” said Nicola Goren, Acting CEO of the Corporation. “The President has called on all Americans to make service a part of their daily lives, and we hope September 11 will be a catalyst for service on the day and throughout the year.”
Among the hundreds of 9/11 projects taking place across the nation are the following: Washington, D.C. — More than 2,000 volunteers will serve through more than 65 projects organized by Serve DC and Greater DC Cares, including a project with the VA Medical Center to honor veterans by capturing stories for the Veterans’ History Project, creating gifts for the residents, cleaning vehicles used to transport the veterans, and beautifying the center’s grounds. New York City — Among dozens of projects across the city, volunteers revitalized Jenny’s Garden in Riverside Park and joined in literacy projects with students at the A. Philip Randolph School.
Boston — Volunteers gathered on the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway to stuff packages and write letters to military personnel serving overseas and donate items for the Massachusetts Military Heroes’ Fund Basic Needs Program, which is building two homes for Bay State veterans. Washington State — Seattle, the United Way of King County and 9,000 volunteers, including 4,000 Microsoft employees, served on projects ranging from habitat restoration and neighborhood cleanups to renovating a child care center. Maine — Community volunteers and Senior Corps and AmeriCorps members joined Gov. John E. Baldacci and filmmaker Aron Gaudet to create a picnic area and urban garden for families that are transitioning out of homelessness at the Park Wood Transitional Housing area in Bangor.
Illinois — The Chicago White Sox baseball team sponsored a day of service September 10 at a high school on the south side of Chicago, starting with a rally at U.S. Cellular Field, followed by a day of painting and refurbishing at the high school. Tennessee — More than 200 United Way volunteers sorted at least 10,000 donated food items at Nashville’s Sommet Center in the morning and then distributed the donations to 23 local agencies in the afternoon. North Carolina — At various cities throughout the state, more than 500 AmeriCorps members and volunteers collected and assembled “Connection Packages” with school supplies, stationary, disposable cameras, and other tools to help children communicate with parents or family members who are stationed overseas. West Virginia — Individuals and groups around the state collecting non-perishable food items and dropped off their food collections to one of the designated drop-off points. Several national organizations held events, including the American Legion, which has organized 15 Freedom Walks; and the Up2Us Coalition, which planned sports-related service projects including reclaiming a soccer field in Washington, D.C., and distributing new books and offering tennis lessons at a school in the Bronx, New York.