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10th Anniversary of September 11, 2001

NASP Member Reflections

September 11, 2001 was a seminal day for NASP, as it was for many of our members and much of the country. Nearly one third of our members were in middle or high school at the time. Others helped lead their schools through that difficult day and the weeks that followed. A lot has happened in the 10 years since. We are interested in your thoughts and observations about 9-11, and how risk and resilience have shaped your views, your work, and/or the children and families you serve. Share whatever strikes you: a memory, a story, a suggestion, or a hope for the future.

http://minnesota.cbslocal.com/2011/09/09/2-generations-discuss-impact-911-had-on-them/

The above is a link to an article and radio audio cast of my brother, who is a teacher, and one of his students, re: 9/11.
Deb Forstner
- St. Cloud, MN
September 12, 2011
On 9-11, I was working in a school a few miles from the Pentagon that educated students from the adjacent army base Ft. Myer in Arlington, VA. I remember vividly how blue the sky was from my office as I was testing a new kindergarten student. I also remember the knock on my door when our amazing principal quietly asked me to take the student back to her room and then the subsequent chaos of frantic parents racing to their children's classrooms to take them home to guard and protect them. I could see the smoke from the Pentagon from my window and it felt surreal. I further remember driving home that day and the eeriness of little traffic in a very populated area and the lack of sound from the sky as all aircraft were grounded. As I watched in horror the replays of the days events, I remember thinking that many of the parents I saw that day would most likely be leaving to guard and protect us as Americans as they were their children and I was overwhelmed with fear and anxiety but also with gratitude and humbleness. As a "front-line" mental health person in the school, I spent the rest of the year trying to help students, parents and staff deal with the aftermath of having loved ones leaving to put themselves in harms way. I am grateful that I was able to use my clinical skills as a school psychologist to help the children and their families but what stays with me the most is that feeling of gratitude for those "front-line" military personnel.
Erin Merydith
- Rochester, NY
September 02, 2011
9-11 was the day that I saw firsthand how tolerance and trust can overcome tragedy. I had just dropped my son off at daycare and was driving into work as the tragedy was unfolding. Living in Colorado and two hours behind EST time zone, I am hearing words over the radio that were making no sense…. “airplane hitting the twin towers, there are reports of a second, there is possibly a third… Pentagon and D.C….are other cities next?….” Like many, I did not want to believe what I was hearing and I certainly did not want to believe the words “possible terrorist act.” As staff arrived at school, shock and disbelief set in as we watched the tragedy unfold on the TV. Our principal called a quick staff meeting and gave strict instructions that TV’s were not to be on in classrooms but she would keep one on in the teacher’s lounge. Being an elementary school, we spoke to teachers about the importance of not unnecessarily exposing the students to the images but to monitor and let us know if anyone needed support. At the end of the meeting I noticed two teachers on the verge of tears and struggling to maintain composure. I was then informed by a close colleague that both were former flight attendants and many of their close friends were still flying. Quite honestly, we were so worried about the students that we failed to consider the personal histories and impact this would have on staff. I immediately offered to cover one of the classrooms so the first grade teacher could gather more information and check on loved ones. Our students, due to their younger age, coped relatively well; however, in the immediate days after the event the direct support was most needed for parents of particular ethnic backgrounds who were afraid to send their children to school for fear of retaliation. I quickly learned that being far away by distance does not mean far away in proximity. I was touched by the strength of this teacher who returned to her students as she was most concerned of their needs. I was amazed by the strength of these parents to deal with the whispers, the rumors, the generalizations, the blame, and the fear others associating them with the event. Many were questioning if they would ever be safe and accepted again in America. It was a true test of tolerance and understanding. I will be forever grateful to the teacher who trusted me with her class and to the parents who after our direct outreach trusted us with their children at a time when trusting others was not easy. Out of every tragedy comes opportunity, and I learned firsthand how the school can be the center of community support and a role model for how tolerance, understanding, trust, and caring for others will always outweigh the senseless actions of others.
Melissa Reeves
- Huntersville, NC
August 22, 2011
Recollections of 911 – Ted Feinberg

While working as the Assistant Executive Director for NASP, I recall most vividly how the day got started for me. I was scheduled for an early morning meeting at the National Mental Health Association office in Alexandria, VA and it was a picture perfect morning weather wise, bright sun, blue skies with just a touch of fall in the air. As I proceeded along the George Washington Parkway towards Alexandria, I noticed dark grey and black smoke in the distance. Almost simultaneously, I learned that a plane had crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers in New York City and it was unclear as to what had caused this tragic event.

As I watched the smoke billowing over the not so distant horizon, I knew the smoke was coming from an area close to the Pentagon and as it later became evident, I was less than a quarter of a mile from the Pentagon 15 minutes after a second plane plowed into that building. Police were on the scene and they routed all vehicles off of the highway. I remember feeling that this very surreal experience was like being transported into a disaster movie, but unfortunately it was very, very real.

I was able to get to the NMHA office where I discovered that the entire staff was transfixed on the images being shown on the television. People were crying and trying to make sense of this bizarre event and once again it was hard to fathom that terrorists had succeeded in wreaking death and destruction on the city where I was born and raised.

All of the cell phones and landlines were inoperative and so it was impossible to let family know that I was out of harms way. I later learned that some of my children were in a state of hysteria as I was living in Bethesda, Maryland while my wife was finishing up her job in New York. Our adult children imagined that they might have been orphaned by this terrible assault, and thankfully later in the day we were able to assure them that we were safe.

I am sure that the events of that day in September will remain vivid in my mind and probably the hearts and minds of all Americans. I can only hope and pray that the grotesque events of that day will never be repeated.
Ted Feinberg
- Eagle, Idaho
August 22, 2011
I, like so many others, will likely never forget the sights, sounds, and thoughts of 9/11/01. I had just started interning at a school for children and adolescents with emotional and behavioral disorders. I remember the rumors, confusion, and inconsistent responses (some staff thought it was up to parents to inform their children about the event so did not say anything, other staff turned on the events on TV and let the students watch the images repeatedly). At the time, I was working on a chapter for Best Practices in Crisis Prevention and Intervention; when I mentioned this, I suddenly found myself taking a leadership role in guiding staff in how to convey the message in a calm, consistent, and accurate manner. Meanwhile, I was concerned about my husband's family who lived and worked in NYC. Thankfully, we found out that they were safe physically, but I know that for those that witnessed the towers fall, the impact has been considerable over the past decade. Despite the devastation, the events of 9/11/01 seemed to serve as a call for action. We have had many advancements in the fields of disaster preparedness and school crisis prevention and intervention, with NASP and PREPaRE taking a leading role. We have learned that people are resilient and there are specific ways that we can intervene to further build this resilience. These important lessons will live on.
Amanda Nickerson
- Buffalo, New York
August 22, 2011
My TOP TEN take-aways from September 11th:

1. Everyone is connected. The events of the day affected everyone in some way and provided a reason to reach out, make calls, offer help, donate money, etc.

2. Schools are community anchors. Information passed from schools to the community helped people of all ages better understand typical reactions from distress, how to cope, how to support children’s needs, and the signs when someone requires extra help.

3. NASP resources are valued. The media, school districts, national associations, and faith-based organizations disseminated NASP handouts immediately after they were posted that same day.

4. Non-English translations are especially valued. School professionals and speakers of other languages were most appreciative of the information they could share with members of diverse cultural groups. (See the Spanish language anniversary handouts and watch for those in Arabic.)

5. Certain populations start with greater needs. Students with disabilities and those who have been previously traumatized face additional challenges when coping with a large scale crisis. Handouts were developed and posted with them in mind.

6. Schools must be prepared. Having a trained and effective crisis team in place identifies the go-to-people when a crisis occurs. (PREPaRE training is specially created for school-based crisis prevention and response.)

7. We must be prepared. Water, duct tape, batteries, peanut butter, and plans for a family meeting place (with out of town relatives’ phone numbers) were part of my preparation, along with running shoes and a flash light in my office, and an emergency kit in my car.

8. School psychologists are go-to people. School psychologists have mental health promotion skills, access to researched information, and a key role in school-based mental health and education services. They are seen as key people during a crisis.

9. Members of NASP were in-the-know. Membership has its benefits and a key one was the timeliness and additional information available.

10. Making a difference is a win-win. No matter what role you played to support others, your support helped you cope, too.
Susan Gorin, NASP Executive Director
- Bethesda, MD
August 10, 2011
I was on the fourth response team of NOVA trained Illinois volunteers sent to assist. I was assigned along with three other Illinois volunteers to work at the New Jersey Family Assistance Center located in Liberty State Park, on the Hudson River across from the financial district. Many of the remaining high rise financial districts’ buildings were clearly visible from where we worked with many of the buildings’ windows boarded up. The four of us were teamed with another four person group from Iowa. Our main duty during the week of Oct. 26-Nov. 4 was to “companion” individuals and families who were victims of the attack and connect them with the services that they were seeking from a number of agencies. Trailers on site included FEMA, DMV, Salvation Army, Red Cross, Attorney General, NJ State Police, United Way, and others. Our job was to interview people as they came in and initially decide on what services they were seeking or help them decide on a plan to access what they needed. I worked with about 20 cases over the week each requiring a specialized plan that might include information, financial assistance, referral to community resources, etc. The majority of my cases involved obtaining financial help. Some of my clients were in the towers and managed to escape, some were relatives of those who perished, and others were employed in the businesses in the area and were now unable to work. I remember the need for victims to explain where they were and what they were going through on Sept. 11. Once allowed to share this, they were ready to move on to finding out more about what they might be eligible to receive. Most of them were not used to having to ask for assistance of any type like the ferry pilot whose daughter was to be married the next summer. Most were having difficulty with rent, mortgage payments and other essentials. Yet, they seemed calm and resigned that they would get through this. Most clients came with family members and friends, just a fraction of the support system most reported. An especially touching moment that I will never forget is observing a woman who lost her husband comforting her father-in-law who had lost his son on the day of the attack. He reminded me so much of my own father. His son had worked in one of the towers and he tended to the grounds on neighboring Liberty Island. Thus he watched one of the planes crash into the tower, knowing that his son was working there. What touched me most was that this grieving parent immediately recognized my ethnic Italian name and promptly went on about having grown up himself in the Italian part of Harlem. He shared many stories of his childhood neighborhood and of his own family throughout his lifespan. In spite of what the region endured, I will never forget pieces of normalcy and resilience that went on that week. On October 31st many of the children who accompanied their families wore Halloween costumes and were promptly treated by the volunteers at the site. At one sports bar the Yankees vs. the Diamondbacks were on TV three consecutive nights as they played at Yankee Stadium. The Yankees won each game but in the second and third games they had to come from behind for two very dramatic wins in extra innings. There were people in business suits, casual clothes, and, of course, Yankee jerseys. All were focused on cheering on the home team with chants, loud comments, and celebratory high fives. One would never guess that all of those gathered there enjoying the close games, hoping the Yankees would come back to win and having what seemed to be a great time were just right across the river from Ground Zero.
Rosario Pesce
- Chicago, Illinois
August 07, 2011
Reflections from the “Pit” - I hold many sacred memories from working at Ground Zero. I was one member of a team of people from across Illinois that was invited by the National Organization for Victim Assistance (NOVA) to provide counseling and support to firefighters, policemen, laborers, victim’s families, and others during Christmas of 2001. Although 9/11 was several months prior, for the firefighters and other laborers working in the “pit” recovering bodies and removing twisted metal, 9/11 had not yet ended. I have chosen one memory to share that exemplifies the American spirit and the will that some people have to carry on despite overwhelming adversity: Working at Ground Zero, in the middle of the night, we would sometimes see the glow of work lights focused on a particular location in the “pit.” I later found out that these lights were being used by firefighters who were digging in the rubble. Whenever a person digging in the pit found a tool stamped “FDNY,” a helmet, a scrap of bunker gear, or a piece of a fire truck, the crane operators would halt their work and a small band of firefighters would get on their hands and knees to dig for their fallen comrades. As an unwritten rule, we were told that they would dig six feet in every direction from where they found the object to attempt to find someone or something. This scene would play out over and over again each day and night. The grim tasks that the firemen carried out only seemed to fuel and strengthen the bonds between them. Their strength and unrelenting determination was nothing short of inspirational. I will never forget their willingness to overcome, their tenacity, their hard work, and most of all, their ability to bring light to the darkness.
Brian Lazzaro – PREPaRE Instructor
Brian R. Lazzaro
- Park Ridge, Illinois
August 07, 2011
Memories are a powerful way to keep loved ones alive in our hearts and in the lives of others. They often give strength to those who have suffered a tragedy and they can be a lasting legacy to future generations.
NASP
- Bethesda, MD
August 04, 2011