By Jacqueline L. Salmon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 11, 2006
Five years after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the billions of dollars donated to the families of those killed have largely been spent, but the charity work hasn't stopped.
Now the families themselves have taken the stage. They have started scholarship funds and international relief efforts, raised money for memorials to honor the dead and launched organizations that have coalesced into multifaceted crusades for a variety of issues, including skyscraper safety, airline security and national security.
Although it's difficult to gauge exactly how many there are, it's clear that hundreds, if not thousands, of such initiatives have been started by families of the nearly 3,000 killed in the attacks.
And the number keeps rising.
"It's trying to bring redemption out of what happened," said Eugene Steuerle, who lost his wife, Norma, in the attack on the Pentagon. Steuerle and two dozen other Sept. 11 families and friends created a group last year, Our Voices Together. "That's what all of us, at different levels, are trying to do."
Mental health experts are labeling this phenomenon "post-traumatic growth" -- when those affected by trauma seek meaning in the tragedy by turning grief into action.
"It's a common occurrence," said District therapist Duane Bowers, who specializes in treating those who have suffered traumatic loss. Victims are "able to look at this negative event and somehow get something positive out of it."
For some, the efforts focus close to home.
The family of Mark McGinly, who grew up in Vienna and died at the World Trade Center, gives annual scholarships to graduates of Virginia high schools. Entrants are required to write a short essay on their similarities to McGinly, a 26-year-old metals trader who squeezed every ounce of fun out of life, said his family.
In the past five years, the family has raised close to $500,000 through an annual golf tournament and dinner for the scholarship program, said McGinly's father, Bill McGinly.
"It's far exceeded anything I thought would happen," he said.
For others, the attacks have spurred a broader mission.
Jay Winuk and a friend formed One Day's Pay to promote the Sept. 11 anniversary as an annual day of community service. Winuk said they hit on the idea as a way to honor his brother, Glenn, a lawyer and volunteer emergency medical technician who raced to the World Trade Center to join the rescue effort and was killed when the South Tower collapsed.
About 3 million people have participated in One Day's Pay since 2002, Winuk said, and it has received widespread support in Congress.
"It's really representative of the way Glenn lived his life, and I think it would be the thing he would be most proud of," Winuk said.
In some instances, small initiatives sketched out on a kitchen table by grieving relatives immediately after the attacks have morphed into sophisticated operations that take on broader issues and a wider membership.
Nearly half of those who belong to Families of September 11, whose initial members were mostly relatives of those killed, have no direct ties to the attacks.
The organization pushed for an investigation into the attacks and has advocated for airline safety and other national security issues. This week, it is combining forces with another group, the Nuclear Threat Initiative, to urge the federal government to better secure material that could be used for nuclear weapons.
For many, the efforts have become their life's work.
Mary Fetchet's group, Voices of September 11th, at first lobbied for a federal investigation of the attacks. Now it is creating a Web-based archive of mementos of those killed.
"As you become involved, it becomes very difficult -- at least for me personally -- not to continue," said Fetchet, a Connecticut clinical social worker whose 24-year-old son Brad was killed at the World Trade Center.
But money is drying up for some groups. Payments from large Sept. 11 funds, such as the Red Cross's $1 billion Liberty Disaster Fund, are diminishing, and expenses are chewing up life insurance money and federal government payments that had funded programs.
Donn Marshall, whose wife, Shelley, died at the Pentagon, said he is struggling to raise money for the Shelley A. Marshall Foundation, which he started five years ago with his wife's retirement account.
The group sponsors art programs, community tea parties and library story hours.
Marshall sent out his first mail appeal for funds but netted only one check, he said.
He had hoped the couple's two young children would eventually take over the foundation and keep it going. Now, Marshall said, "I just don't know."
Liz and Steve Alderman, who lost their son, Peter, at the World Trade Center, spend about $150,000 of their own money each year to pay the overhead expenses of the charity they founded, the Peter C. Alderman Foundation.
The group trains doctors to treat victims of mass violence in countries including Iraq, Bosnia and Uganda. Money for the training comes from the $1.5 million they received for Alderman's death from the federal Victim Compensation Fund.
Liz Alderman said the couple is beginning to look elsewhere for money to cover overhead costs, such as their travel to training seminars and office expenses.
More than 50,000 people have been treated by doctors trained through the foundation, Alderman said, and it recently opened a mental health clinic in Cambodia.
"It is the best memorial that we could ever, ever give," she said.