In the wake of September 11, 2001, Americans united as a nation—first in sorrow and reflection, then in action, raising money for victims and their families and gathering food and supplies for Ground Zero workers. This year, in observance of the tenth anniversary, millions of people are expected to re-create that sense of community and compassion by participating in a National Day of Service and Remembrance.
Since 2002, volunteers working through the nonprofit organization MyGoodDeed have marked the anniversary of the attacks by participating in charitable or community projects to honor not only those who lost their lives as a result of the terrorist attacks, but all Americans who responded to the day’s events with service. Launched on the first anniversary of the attacks, MyGoodDeed was inspired by the heroic actions of cofounder Jay Winuk’s younger brother, Glenn: An attorney and an emergency medical technician with a volunteer fire department, he was at home when the first plane hit. He headed downtown to help evacuate people in his office building a block from the World Trade Center, then joined rescue efforts in the South Tower. Glenn died in its collapse.
“9/11 shouldn’t be remembered just for the attacks but also for how people of the world responded both with acts large and small,” says Winuk. “It’s important to us that future generations not just learn about the attacks and acts of terrorism but also the response to those acts.” In 2003, Winuk and MyGoodDeed cofounder David Paine began lobbying for September 11 to be a recognized day of community service. President Obama permanently established it as a National Day of Service and Remembrance in 2009.
With a goal of making September 11, 2011, the single largest day of community service in American history, MyGoodDeed is partnering with HandsOn Network, the biggest volunteer network in the nation, as well as the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and other organizations to host service programs and events in 24 cities across the country. These projects include refurbishing schools, preparing care packages for soldiers, and building community playgrounds. The majority will take place on September 11 itself, though some communities have scheduled events in the days leading up to the anniversary.
Those who live outside the host cities can pledge their support to a wide range of local community service projects or create their own by visiting MyGoodDeed’s website at 911dayofservice.org. But opportunities exist even if you never leave your desk: You can donate to a cause, or simply post a tribute. “We just want people to go out of their way for someone else on this day in whatever way works for them,” says Winuk.
Organizers hope the day’s events will inspire millions of people to pay annual tribute through service for years to come. “We’re trying to affect a change in behavior,” says Winuk. “Years from now, we want people to wake up on 9/11 and think of it as a day for action—for pitching in and giving back.”