9/11 Charity Held Up as Model Of How Best to Help Bereaved

Group With Unique Approach to Aiding Pentagon Victims Prepares to End Run

Assistance After 9/11
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 4, 2008; Page C01

Nearly seven years after a hijacked airplane crashed into the Pentagon, the largest charity established to help Washington area victims and their families is closing, becoming the last major Sept. 11-related charity to shut down.

The Survivors' Fund raised $25 million from more than 12,000 area residents and businesses after the 2001 terrorists attacks and spent it over the subsequent years helping the grieving, the distressed and the traumatized in a way that is being hailed as a model of charitable giving.

At a global philanthropy summit starting today at National Harbor, leaders of the charity will present a 44-page report that they believe provides a framework that charities in other cities could replicate.

"We've given them the key to the kingdom," said Terry O'Hara Lavoie, the fund's executive director.

The Survivors' Fund's closing brings an unofficial end to the nation's philanthropic response to the attacks, in which millions of people and businesses donated $2.7 billion -- an unprecedented amount of private dollars at the time -- to hundreds of charities.

Although some leading charities cut large checks to the families of victims, the Survivors' Fund followed a unique approach to giving, establishing a long-term personal trust of sorts for the victims, their families and first responders. Using a model similar to the one used after the 1995 bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building, the Survivors' Fund hired professional case managers to work with families one-on-one to help them move beyond their grief and on with their lives. That meant paying household bills for families who fell behind and guiding survivors to medical care and mental health counseling. If a family's primary breadwinner had been lost, the charity helped other family members return to school and find jobs.

"There really was no way to compensate anybody for what happened," said Lavoie. Instead, she said, case managers helped guide people through the maze of available charities and programs.

Although the nation's confidence in charities fell amid intense scrutiny of many Sept. 11 nonprofit groups that were accused of having poor accountability and making bad spending decisions, the Washington area's experiment with disaster-relief philanthropy is being hailed as a model by some experts.

"I think it was extraordinarily well organized," said Kenneth R. Feinberg, a D.C. lawyer who served as special master of the federal government's September 11th Victim Compensation Fund of 2001.

Paul C. Light, a nonprofits expert at New York University's Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, said a case-management model works particularly well in some instances.

"Some victims of disaster will know exactly what they need and have the personal resources, education, connections to spend the money wisely," Light said. Others, he said, may not know what to do or where to turn.

So how was the charity built? How did the Survivors' Fund spend its $25 million in private donations? And did the charity accomplish its mission: to help victims and their families achieve long-term financial and emotional stability?

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2008 The Washington Post Company