SPARTA, NJ - When tragedy struck on September 11, 2001 in the form of two airliners hitting the World Trade Center, one into the Pentagon, and one into a field in Shanksville, Pa., Rachael Paulson of Sparta felt in the aftermath while the needs of adults who lost loved ones were being tended to, there was not enough support for the children whose family members perished.
Rachael has a natural affinity for children, not only as a mother, but additionally as a children's author, and founder of HOW (Hands On The World) Global, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization which works to bring running water to areas in undeveloped parts of the globe where there is none. She also headed up a youth group arm of her organization, Global Kids.
"I felt a longing to want to help in some way," said Rachael, who understood the pain of loss, with the passing of her own brother when she was very young.
Rachael's longing to help was fulfilled when she was invited to volunteer her time at a Camp Comfort Zone in Blairstown, N.J., for 9/11 children.
"I was there as a mentor," said Paulson.
At camp, Rachael was assigned to several children. One of them was Emily Mathesen, whose father, William died at age 41 on the 84th Floor of Two World Trade, where he was a vice president at Euro Brokers. Rachael worked with Emily to help her cope with by writing. Emily’s father himself had been a songwriter, and composed a song for his daughter called, “Emily, I Believe in You”.
But it was Maggie Fisher, a child not assigned to Rachael, that she bonded with most, and maintains a relationship with to this day.
Maggie’s father John was a Port Authority Security Consultant who also died that day in the World Trade Center.
When Rachael met Maggie, she said the six-year-old was “giving everyone a hard time, and acting out.”
Maggie said she wanted to leave the cabin, and go home.
It turned out a photo that Maggie had brought of her father went missing. Originally thought to be in her backpack, she could not locate it.
Rachael said that night she went to bed and felt something in her bed. It was the photo of John Fisher.
“We had no idea how or why it got there, but that started my relationship with Maggie,” Rachael said. “This was a sign that I’m supposed to mentor this child, or this is a sign I’m maybe supposed to connect with her.”
After Camp Comfort Zone, Rachael’s Global Kids Group hosted a series of events for seven of the 9/11 children, who were referred to as the “Little Heroes”, including Maggie, in Sparta in 2002.
“Sparta Township Council, and the county, was wonderful,” Rachael said of the support they received from the community.
Global Kids and the Little Heroes went apple picking, enjoyed breakfast made by the Sparta Elks, and to see the fire trucks at the Sparta Fire Department.
“We did activities to keep things off their minds,” Rachael said. “We would meet on a regular basis to form a second family for them.”
One of the other activities was the creation of a special mural, which was a collaboration of many groups, including art teacher SuzAnne Pacala from Hilltop Country Day School. SuzAnne created images in place of lettering, that Global Kids, and Little Heroes eventually colored in together.
The images spelled out the word “HOPE”. The “H” was an image of the twin towers, with a rainbow between them. The “O” was a globe. The “P” was formed with an “American Flag”. Finally, the “E” was a dove.
Hands have always had a special meaning for Rachael and her work. She had children who lost their parents in 9/11place their handprints on the images for “HOPE”.
On the twin towers, there are two grey handprints at the base of the buildings, belonging to Maggie. Another child placed white handprints on the wings of the dove.
On the flip side of the mural were special messages for the children of 9/11, and even some of the children themselves signed. Maggie placed her own handprint on the back.
For Maggie, working on the mural was therapeutic.
“It was a really amazing experience to help paint that mural and get through 9/11,” Maggie said.
Having worked closely with Maggie, Rachael said Maggie worked through her feelings with art, and outdoor activities.
Maggie said, “Art has helped me to grow, and express myself. It is what helped me deal with my father’s death in a healthy way, and I also enjoy it.”
Maggie now studies art in New York City.
Locally, children at the Kiddie Academy placed their handprints on the outer edges of the mural. Eventually, the mural traveled to different states with HOW Global, as well as to South Africa (click here to read more about Rachael’s trip to South Africa in 2006.
In 2006, Maggie joined Rachael on the trip, where they told the children of the South African Village about 9/11.
“Those were children who lost their parents, and they could relate to Maggie,” Rachael said. “That was the significance of their putting their hands on a place of love.”
Rachael said what she learned the most from working with the Little Heroes was the necessity to be very respectful.
“They [the children] did not want to be showcased for their loss,” Rachael said. “Some kids wanted to be friends with them because of it. They started to feel used for their statuses. They just wanted to feel like normal children.”
Rachael said art, music, and other forms of creativity helped the children in their healing.
“I learned how the arts healed, which goes along with the mural,” Rachael said.
The mural will be on display on Sunday, September 23 from noon to 9pm at Krogh’s Restaurant and Brew Pub in Sparta for the Peace, Love, Music & Art Festival, a fundraiser to benefit HOW Global. It is part of International World Peace Day (September 21), and, “to remember and support the children in our world that live without clean water”. The public is invited to attend the event, and 10 percent of every lunch served will benefit HOW Global. There will be art activities for children, and more.
Editor’s Note: This is the fourth story in our series, “Each Person Has A Story – The Alternative Press of Sussex County Remembers September 11”.