|Remembering September 11 through service|
|Written by Kate Sherrill|
|Wednesday, 26 September 2012|
Tuesday, September 11, 2012 was a clear, beautiful morning, much like that infamous Tuesday morning 11 years ago – a day Americans will never forget. It has been just over a decade since four airplanes sliced through the cloudless autumn sky to crash into the World Trade Center towers, the Pentagon, and a remote field in Pennsylvania.
Together with Hands On Georgia, the Athens Community Council on Aging (ACCA) decided to "remember by doing" on the anniversary of the day that saw over 3,000 lives lost.
Elise North, Senior Corps Director at ACCA organized a service day at OCFD Station 8 on Oconee Connector to honor the memory of the 343 firefighters and paramedics who gave their lives trying to save others.
"I feel like it's a good way to give back. What better way to honor and remember this sacrifice than by serving our own fire and safety personnel?" says North. "They serve every day. The least we can do is serve for a few hours one day a year as a small way to say thank you for all they do."
North spoke with Fire Chief Bruce Thaxton, who suggested sprucing up Station 8's flagpole.
The flagpole is actually a September 11 memorial installed by the Woodmen of the World in 2002. The surrounding flowerbed had become overgrown, making the plaque difficult to see. The pine straw, bleached gray from the sun, needed to be refreshed. Trees and shrubs nearby were badly in need of pruning.
"Together, we are turning a day of loss into a collective of positive acts and in doing so, we remember," said North.
The flag stood at half-mast while North and six volunteers worked.
"We spread pine straw, trimmed shrubs, and put in the brick border around the garden to make it look more like the memorial that it is," ACCA intern and volunteer Madison Mallory said.
OCFD volunteer firefighter Michael Hook, who is also a Dekalb County Fire Department Captain, spent Monday afternoon at Lowe's with North purchasing new shrubs and bricks for the project. Lowe's provided the materials at half price.
"This is a good way to honor the fire department and the sacrifices they make every day, for little – or in our case – no pay," said Hook. "Since 9/11, I have noticed a greater appreciation for firefighters and for the fire service in general. I feel that people are more aware of firefighters and want to reach out and show their thanks for what we do."
The group didn't limit their work to the flower bed around the pole, but also planted new shrubs and spread fresh pine straw around the firehouse.
"On behalf of the fire department, we really do appreciate their efforts today," he said. "Everything looks great!"
"It turned out really well," agreed North.
Several people from the ACCA office came to help, along with three community volunteers who heard about the project through the media.
Deborah Holish, who lives in Illinois, was just in town for the week visiting her mother. A member of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), Holish learned about the work planned for Station 8 through an email from the group.
"DAR is always trying to do good things for the community, so they let people know about events like this," Holish said. "I decided, instead of going to do genealogy research, I'll do this instead."
Holish and others helped spread pine straw, while some worked to dig a shallow trench around the large flower bed near the flagpole.
Paige Tidwell and Carol Burnside, who both work with North at the ACCA, came out to help with the project.
"What better way to spend 9/11?" said Tidwell. "Earlier, when we were working in the flower bed, people saw us and were honking in support as they drove by."
Burnside has a son-in-law serving in the Army and is the daughter of a WWII veteran. She says she likes to stay involved in the community.
"I have a healthy respect for patriotism and what it means," she said. "This is a little bit that we can do."
Elise North became inspired to organize a service day for 9/11 as she realized there were no other service projects to commemorate the day. Last year she organized a memorial evening event with luminaries called “Night of Lights.”
"It was sort of a one-time thing for the 10th anniversary, and we really want to focus more on service projects in the years to come," North said.
"September 11 reminds us of an unspeakable tragedy and loss in our nation's history, but it also reminds us of the sense of unity we felt after the events and pride for our country. People set aside their differences and came together in service – so much so, that the day has been set aside as a national day of service."
Conversations about 9/11 could be overheard as firefighters and volunteers remembered what they were doing and how it affected them.
Hook says he is inspired by the firefighters of 9/11.
"That's our standard now," he said. "You go by – those guys ran into a building when everyone else was running out. You ask, would I do that? You tell yourself, those guys did that, so I can do this."
He remembers going into work at the Dekalb firehouse on September 12.
"The station is right next to the CDC, so we were on high alert. People were bringing food to the station – more than one person in tears – saying, we can't do anything for the guys in New York, so this is what we can do."
Even the two UGA students and ACCA interns, who were only children in 2001, could immediately recall what they were doing when they heard about the attacks.
"I remember it pretty vividly," said volunteer Hannah Baldwin, who was an 11-yr-old in Philadelphia at the time.
"We evacuated school because we thought we were the next city. Friends were taken from school in military cars because they had parents who worked at the Pentagon."
"I stayed home from school that day," remembered ACCA intern Mallory. "I walked into the living room and my mom was watching everything on TV and crying. We spent the rest of the day watching the news on TV."
"I remember 9/11 very clearly. It was a game-changer for me," said North, whose husband was inspired to become a volunteer firefighter because of it.
Retired teacher Dana Richier came out to help after reading about the service project in the paper. He showed North and others how to properly plant the new waxleaf ligustrum shrubs.
"Dana knows all about landscaping," said North. "He's been a huge help. He's our shining star today."
Richier, a Vietnam veteran has a special connection to September 11.
"I cannot let the day to go by without doing something. I feel an affinity for the military and their families," he said. "We owe it to them and anyone who has been involved in that situation."
North said she plans to do another September 11 service project next year as part of the ACCA's volunteer programs.
For those unable to help at the fire station, the ACCA also has two other ongoing volunteer initiatives to honoring veterans and military. The group is collecting personal care items for the Northeast Georgia Homeless Veterans Shelter in Barrow County, and will be sending handwritten letters to military serving overseas. Donations and letters can be dropped off at 1865 Broad Street, Suite C, or 135 Hoyt Street in Athens.
Volunteers of all ages are encouraged to pitch in with ACCA projects.Oconee County seniors are welcome to join the Council on Aging's RSVP (Retired and Senior Volunteer Program), America's largest volunteer organization for those 55 and older. Visit www.accaging.org/rsvp or call 706-549-4850 to learn more.
|Last Updated ( Wednesday, 26 September 2012 )|
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