Championing a Promise: We Will Never Forget

At 10:29 a.m. on Tuesday, September 11, 2001–the minute after the final of four planes which crashed that day fell into a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania–Americans made a pledge to those who perished:

To never forget.

Actions by wicked terrorists tore the beacon of our country’s financial success–the Twin Towers–down.  Terrible men used their callous efforts to smash into the symbol of our country’s defense against its enemies.  Cowards battled with the brave on a plane which eventually crashed into an open expanse in Pennsylvania.

2,977 innocent people who went to work, were headed to vacations, or stopped to help a stranger, lost their lives that day.

Mothers and fathers were faced with the unimaginable feeling of surviving a child in life.  Wives and husbands faced the reality of “til death do us part.”  Babies and children had the precious time of knowing and loving a parent stripped from them.

As much as was taken from our country and its citizens that day, the ugly face of terrorism could not steal everything.

In the moments following September 11, 2001, the common thread which has tied Americans together since that July 4th in 1776 when 56 men signed their names to a document recognizing the “unalienable Rights” of Americans to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” was only strengthened.

Some of the first responders to the cause to ensure that Americans never forgot the lives of the innocent lost on September 11, 2001 were athletes, teams and sports leagues.

In the early hours of September 11, 2001, the New York Giants landed at Newark International Airport, returning from a Monday Night Football match-up against the Denver Broncos.  The tarmac they passed across held United Airlines Flight 93, which terrorists would later cause to fall out of the sky and land in a field in Pennsylvania, killing all on board.

To say that New York sports teams, like the Giants, and their athletes were touched by the events of 9/11 would be an understatement.  “This was their backyard.  These were their fans.  These were their family members, too,” said Amy Wright, the Director of Development for Tuesday’s Children.

Tuesday’s Children is an organization founded after 9/11 to provide support to children who lost a parent in the attacks, along with those affected by global acts of terrorism.  The importance of an organization like Tuesday’s Children in serving the needs of children affected by 9/11 becomes clear upon learning that 49 percent of the children Tuesday’s Children serves are under the age of 18.  This means, that 49 percent of the children Tuesday’s Children supports were under the age of eight when at least one of their parents’ lives was taken on 9/11.  In fact, the youngest children who lost a parent on 9/11 were not even alive on that day, but instead were being carried inside of their mother’s wombs.

“Some of these kids are ten years old.  It’s so impactful when you think about it in terms of those years.  We serve thousands of children who lost a parent on 9/11.  There are a lot of little children out there who still need Tuesday’s Children’s programs,” said Wright.

In athletes, teams and sports leagues, Tuesday’s Children and other charities formed in response to the September 11th attacks have found the perfect team of responders to champion our nation’s promise to never forget.

“I can tell you specifically, the New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, New York Knicks, New York Giants, New York Jets, New York Mets, and New York Yankees really were there [providing support], very close to the inception of the organization.  They took their roles and responsibilities very seriously after September 11th and made a long-term commitment to help these families, as well as the first responders, ” said Wright.

These teams’ support of Tuesday’s Children is expansive.  It ranges from providing up to 500 tickets for any one game for victims’ families.  Wright estimates that over the past ten years, teams have donated “thousands and thousands” of tickets to Tuesday’s Children.  Teams have granted meet-and-greet opportunities, with the New York Knicks going so far as giving children the opportunity to do something Spike Lee pays massive amounts of money for–to watch the Knicks from courtside.  Tuesday’s Children’s participants have also received opportunities to ride the Zamboni at New York Rangers games.  They have thrown out the first pitch at New York Mets games.  The Mets and New York Giants have flown Tuesday’s Children families to various cities to watch each team’s respective games.

Then there are the monetary donations made by athletes and teams.  The New York Mets Foundation has financially underwritten numerous programs for Tuesday’s Children, including a mentoring program for first responders.  Along with the Mets, Major League Baseball players John Franco, Mike Piazza and Tom Glavine financially backed Tuesday’s Children’s Career Paths program, which provides career assistance to children graduating from college and others left behind by a family member after 9/11 who find themselves re-entering the workforce.

Ten years after terrorists attempted to strike a fatal blow to the ideals and values our country has successfully built itself upon, citizens nationwide will come together to participate in the “.  . . single largest day of charitable service in United States history.”  The development of this day of service can be traced back to the generous charitable efforts of New York Mets players in the days following 9/11.

On September 21, 2001–ten days after the 9/11 attacks–the New York Mets took the field for the first sporting event held in New York City after the attacks.  They not only beat the Atlanta Braves that night, but each player also donated a day’s salary to the New York Police and Fire Widows and Children’s Benefit Fund Foundation.

The actions of the New York Mets that night spurred an idea in the head of David Paine, a New York native who describes himself as “. . .a very optimistic person” and believes that “you can accomplish anything if you’re just not willing to give up.”

Paine’s friend, Jay Winuk, lost his brother Glenn in the September 11th attacks.  Glenn Winuk was a partner in the New York City law office of Holland & Knight LLP, which was located one block away from Ground Zero.  Glenn was also a volunteer firefighter and EMT.  After the World Trade Center was attacked, Glenn led others out of his office and then “. . . raced into the WTC’s South Tower to participate in the rescue efforts.”  Glenn lost his life while working to save that of his fellow-man.

Paine and Winuk discussed ways they could “best pay tribute to Glenn and honor all of the other victims,” according to Paine.  Their talks and ultimate decision turned back to the Mets players’ donation of a day’s salary.

“I had read a story in a local New York newspaper about how the New York Mets players and staff had pledged to donate a day’s wages to the 9/11 relief effort.  Mike Piazza’s salary on that day was $68,000.00.  It inspired me and I thought, we can all do that.  We can all donate a day’s pay or a day’s worth of service.  So we set up our first website called OnDaysPay.org.  Then Jay and I formed the nonprofit group One Day’s Pay, which later became the organization we are today, MyGoodDeed,” explained Paine.

In the years since Paine and Winuk founded MyGoodDeed, the organization has become a force in American charitable efforts.

“We wanted to make sure to create a meaningful way for the entire nation to remember the victims who were lost and those who rose in service in response to the attacks and provide a constructive way in which they could pay tribute.  Having witnessed the remarkable way that the country came together in response to the 9/11 attacks in terms of service, it seemed logical that the best possible legacy or gift to the victims would be that if we all pledged to gift to 9/11, for now and ever, in engaging in good deeds,” noted Paine.

Ultimately, the efforts of Paine and Winuk, along with “22 other leaders in the 9/11 community,” prompted Congress to enact legislation “. . . that formally recognized and led to the official establishment of September 11 as a National Day of Service and Remembrance under federal law and Presidential Proclamation.”

MyGoodDeed and the September 11th Day of Service and Remembrance have received significant support from athletes and teams.  “Many teams have activities they’re designing [to participate in the September 11th Day of Service and Remembrance].  The Miami Dolphins and NFL are tweeting and posting messages about our initiative through their own Twitter accounts.  The New York Mets are dedicating their September 9, 2011 home game to remember the events of 9/11 and to support the September 11th Day of Service and Remembrance,” said Paine.

NASCAR has also been a supportive partner of MyGoodDeed and the September 11th Day of Service and Remembrance.  “They are our lead national volunteer activation partner.  They’re responsible for mobilizing hundreds of thousands of volunteers across the country,” said Paine.

While both Tuesday’s Children and the September 11th Day of Service and Remembrance have received significant support from countless athletes and teams, arguably the largest monetary pledge made to both organizations as of late came from the NFL.

On August 30, 2011, the NFL announced that it will donate $1 million collectively to three 9/11 memorials, along with Tuesday’s Children and MyGoodDeed.  “We are so honored.  The NFL is an unbelievable entity and organization.  It is a true honor to be in their fold,” stated Wright.

The donations the NFL will make to MyGoodDeed and Tuesday’s Children will come from proceeds raised from items auctioned at http://www.NFL.com/Auction.  NFL players will wear commemorative jerseys at games over the weekend, which will be signed and auctioned.  “Believe me, I’m buying one of those jerseys.  It’s probably going to be Eli Manning’s, because I’m a Giants fan,” noted Paine.

While the efforts of athletes, teams and leagues have gracefully furthered our nation’s promise to never forget, those who don’t make millions of dollars are just as able to hold onto the oath we all made at 10:29 a.m. on Tuesday, September 11, 2001.

“You don’t have to be a superstar to make a difference.  You can make a difference in your community simply by trying to make a difference,” said Paine.

The need for our country’s citizens to come together and support those affected by 9/11, and stand in support amongst other citizens finding themselves in need, has not been extinguished.  “We still have a lot of work to do, and we need people to walk with us in our commitment to never forget and never forget our promise to be there for these families,” said Wright.

In the moments, days, months and ten years following 9/11, our nation’s athletes, teams, leagues and citizens have bravely and boldly held onto a most important promise.

And we will never forget.

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