Tuesday’s Children: Supporting healing in the aftermath of 9/11

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Project Common Bond participants Lee Dawoud, Jess Wisniewski and Nafessa Rahman.

Tuesday’s Children is a nonprofit founded to provide support for families affected by the 9/11 terrorist attacks. However, in the years since those attacks, terrorism has continued to rear its ugly head in places like Paris and San Bernardino, California, leaving more and more people impacted. For Tuesday’s Children, it’s important to continue providing and expanding critical, long-term healing services for affected individuals while incorporating the impact current events can have on members of its community.


Most recently, the organization’s executive director, Terry Sears, celebrated the advocacy work undertaken by herself and others, including John Feal of the FealGood Foundation, which led to an extension of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act. The Zadroga Act established the World Trade Center Health Program in 2010 to provide testing and treatment for people who took part in 9/11 response and recovery operations as well as other survivors of the attacks. It expired in 2015 before an extension was included in an omnibus spending bill that was passed by Congress.


As news broke of the extension’s passage on Dec. 18, Sears said simply, “It’s incredible.” The law’s expiration led to disruptions in health care for individuals sickened by the attacks as doctors and hematologists with experience treating the rare and unique cancers that responders contracted left the program, Sears explained. Now, “I think the physicians will stay and this work continues,” she said.


Tuesday’s Children, which has a budget of about $2 million and a staff of 17, was born in Manhasset in Long Island, where 38 families lost a loved one at Ground Zero and 16 young women became both widows and single mothers. “It was apparent that these families and children were going to need some help, not only in the immediate aftermath but in the years to come,” Sears said.


“There are many different potential ‘re-triggering’ events in the world,” Sears said. “The 9/11 families can be brought back to where they were, in a space where they are still very raw,” she added.


In response, Tuesday’s Children began implementing its “long-term healing model,” consisting of programs focused on resiliency such as mentoring courses for children and teens, and service projects for families to help bolster a sense of community.


As the community grew and healed together, it became apparent to the families at Tuesday’s Children that the consequences of 9/11 continued to play out well beyond that day’s attacks. As a result the organization wanted to welcome more people into the community, namely the families of U.S. military members who died serving overseas.


When Liz Zirkle, director of military outreach at Tuesday’s Children, began her work, she was unable to find a directory of services for military families or a directory of families of the fallen, which made it extremely difficult to locate people in need of support. So she established relationships with nonprofits and government agencies, including the Department of Defense and the Army’s Survivor Outreach Services, and began formulating an informal directory of services and families that need support. Once a family is referred to Tuesday’s Children by a government agency, Zirkle makes sure they are matched with the most appropriate services, even if they are not provided by Tuesday’s Children.


“(Other nonprofits) are very good at helping families immediately after the loss,” said Zirkle. “Tuesday’s Children is thinking about resilience and commitment to the long-term healing.”


Tuesday’s Children also runs Heart to Heart, a retreat program where widows of first responders or U.S. military members spend a weekend of pampering, communing and learning together. Like many of the nonprofit’s other programs, Heart to Heart employs the “dignity model,” developed by a Harvard researcher, to help with healing and resiliency building. “Dignity is an inherent need and basic assumption of all of us. Yet, so many of us feel often times because of the violent nature of the loss, our dignity has been assaulted,” Zirkle said.


Zirkle’s husband, who served overseas as a B-1 pilot in the U.S. Air Force, was killed in Kansas in a drunk driving accident. In her first few days working at Tuesday’s Children, Zirkle participated in a Heart to Heart retreat. She described those in attendance as “people who understand many things, without you having to say a word.”


In 2008, the youth of the organization advocated to broaden the scope of its work once again and include young people affected by acts of terrorism, violence or war. Since then, the nonprofit has helped over 450 young adults from 20 countries with its Project Common Bond, a 10-day summer symposium where participants undergo healing, dignity and leadership sessions.


“After participating in Project Common Bond, we’ve found that these young adults will go back into their communities and share the lessons learned,” said Program Manager Deirdre Dolan. The program looks to end the cycle of violence through leadership training.


Sarah Fisher, a Project Common Bond participant now studying at George Washington University, said that the program made her want to understand more about the world and inspired her to pursue international studies as a major.


“The more stories I heard from my peers around the world about the events in their countries and their cultures, the more I wanted to learn,” Fisher said. “Tuesday's Children brought me together with my peers who experienced the same loss as I did, and I am continually inspired by the strength, positivity and resilience that these group of young men and women show everyday,” she added.


Kevin Parks, a young man who lost his father on 9/11, contacted the organization simply wanting to help. He went on to form the junior board, which has grown from four adults in 2010 to include roughly 80 young people who have been impacted by terrorism. “As kids affected by 9/11 grow up, we’re trying to take on more of a mentoring role,” Parks said. “This will hopefully lead to the next generation of people doing what we’re doing.”


Sears agrees this is the way forward for Tuesday’s Children. “The young people, the 9/11 kids, have a story to tell. As these events are happening around the world, they really can be beacons of hope and can offer voices of support.”


Editor-at-Large Aimée Simpierre contributed to this story.

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