PATERSON, NJ – To commemorate the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, about 100 people spent several hours on Tuesday doing volunteer work on various beautification projects at city schools.
"To actually take the day and turn it into a day of service is the best way to honor the people who lost their lives,"
said Michael Gowdy, the chief program officer at New Jersey Community Development Corporation, the agency that hosted the events.
At School #5 on Totowa Avenue, about 30 volunteers did gardening and cleaned playground equipment installed two years earlier by volunteers. Similar projects were undertaken by volunteers at the Community Charter School of Paterson on Spruce Street. At John F. Kennedy High School, the volunteers worked on a mural and cleaned litter from a nearby World War II memorial. Meanwhile, student volunteers were in the school's workshop building new benches for the memorial.
The volunteers came from the Americorps program, high school students at International and Garret Morgan Academy, as well as social work interns from Ramapo and Rutgers University.
Eleven years ago, Gowdy was working for the State of New Jersey when the Twin Towers were hit by planes. He had just returned from a vacation as he prepared to hold a staff meeting the morning of the attacks before, "everyone's phone's started going off."
"It was kind of a surreal moment... It was a very weird ride home on the Turnpike," he said.
But not everyone volunteering at the day of service could literally remember the tragic day. In fact, most of the younger volunteers were too young to have clear memories of the attacks.
"No, nothing at all," said Maya Thompson, a junior who was in the first grade in the Bahamas that fateful day. Nevertheless, she was excited to get an opportunity to do community service in honor of the victims and eagerly participated in the School #5 event.
"I feel good about it,’’ the student said. “It's a great way to show people that they can still get involved in the community and help out."
"I like to do my community service. I do community service every year," adding she has worked to feed the homeless and wants to go to college to become a therapist.
Thompson spent most of her time staining two large wooden planters in the rear of the school with about a dozen volunteers.
Among the gardening projects going on at School #5 was a new "butterfly garden," according to Ron Cope of NJCDC.
Cope said that milkweed will be planted there to attract butterflies in the spring, adding it could help foster student interest in science.
Ultimately, the event was about the kids, first and foremost, according to Kristin Brophy, a 26-year-old new teacher at International High School who supervised a group of volunteers.
"A lot of them are really invested in their city and they take every chance they can to make it beautiful," she said. “They have a lot of pride in Paterson, especially this bunch."