Sunday, September 11, 2011

Operation: Adopted Heroes

Because of the terrible 9/11 tragedies, the month of September will always mean more to America than Labor Day, the start of school or the beginning of another football season. That fateful day changed us all forever.

The following is a story about a woman who asked herself the question "What can I do?" Doing nothing was not an option, so she and her friends were accomplished something wonderful. "Operation: Adopted Heroes" is a heartwarming tale of commitment and compassion. When I heard about it, I was blown away. I hope you will be too.

As you remember 9/11 throughout the month of September, please also remember that while we as individuals cannot do everything, we can always do something.

Here's wishing the very best month to all of you from Cappy.

Operation: Adopted Heroes
A Little Town with a Big Heart)
By Cappy Hall Rearick

What Does It Take to Make a Hero? Sometimes it takes a village.

As the tenth anniversary of 9/11 approaches, who among us will not be sadly reminded of that day, and of the firefighters who fought valiantly to earn the title of hero.

Following the 9/11 tragedies, my friend Dee Matthews, a New Yorker and former resident of a small Pennsylvania town, visited her neighborhood firehouse where seven of its members died that fateful September day. The firehouse had been shattered in more ways than one. After praying with the men, Matthews resolved to bring light back into NYC Engine Company 84 and Ladder 34.

Matthews called two friends Pennsylvania, Pat Stewart and Judy Hand and told them with a voice filled with anguish, “What can we do to help those devastated firefighters? I know my hometown well enough to know they wouldn’t want these men to suffer any more than they already have.”

Stewart and Hand responded immediately. “Let’s adopt them.”

On that day, via the telephone, bonded by three hundred miles of fiber optics and fueled with commitment, Operation: Adopted Heroes was born.

Naming the project was easy, but would they be able to find enough support to make a difference? Their little town was as heartbroken as many others throughout the country, and because of this, the three women were soon to discover that the entire town was eager to open their arms to become an essential part of Operation: Adopted Heroes.

Sometimes it takes a village.

Embracing the last audible words of Todd Beamer, 9/11 victim on board Flight 93, the three friends made his words their mission statement. “Let’s roll,” they said to the town, and the town listened.

They knocked on doors throughout the township asking for funds to send to families of the firefighters who had lost their lives, and they were rewarded by an outpouring of generosity. Each of the seven 9-11 families was given sixteen hundred dollars raised by the women.

Sometimes it takes a village.

Dee Matthews had noticed that chairs in the firehouse were unstable and past the point of comfort, so fourteen new chairs, built by locals and made of solid oak, replaced the old ones. In addition, paint and other supplies were bought to help rehabilitate the firehouse in hopes of lifting the spirits of those brave firefighters still grieving the loss of their friends and co-workers.

A local grocery store chain donated enough groceries to provide many meals for the fallen families as well as to the men at the firehouse.

Students from the high school band and pep team helped box up a trailer packed with the new chairs, groceries and other supplies. Someone painted, “Operation Adopted Heroes: We will never forget” on the side of the container.

Sometimes it takes a village.

As the 2001 Christmas holiday approached, the women began to discuss what they could do to fill in a few of the blanks.

“This will be the saddest Christmas the families have ever experienced,” they decided. “What can we do to let them know that they’re in our thoughts and prayers and that we love them all?”

They appealed once more to the town and were not surprised when the response was, “Let’s roll!”

They gathered up toys and clothes contributed by local residents eager to help. Again, kids from the local high school jumped in to wrap boxes for delivery to the families before Christmas.

A group of women in town made cotton throws for each of the widows, hand embroidering the victim’s name on each piece. Quilts, made by the Chat and Sew Quilters Club were given to the firehouse; fruit baskets and hams were sent as Christmas gifts from the local grocery store.

The women, accompanied by local firefighters, were met on the George Washington Bridge by the FDNY group, stopping only once to fight a grass fire together. After meeting up Matthews in New York, the three women hand-delivered gifts to the firehouse and families of the fallen heroes.

They could have UPS the gifts, but they didn’t; they packed up cars and vans and drove three hundred miles to present their gifts in person. They showed up because that’s what heroes do.

The small town delegation was taken to Ground Zero by the NYC firefighters where they held hands, cried and prayed together.

We will never forget were not empty words to that group of people. Although ten years have gone by since that fateful day, they continue to honor the commitment made to the adopted heroes and the families of the fallen. Adoption is forever.

While there is no one thing that makes a hero, is it possible that heroism can be contagious? My three friends found it intolerable to do nothing so they reached out to a firehouse three hundred miles away. In doing so, a bunch of heroes were created and their small community became The Little Town With a Big Heart.

Sometimes it takes a village.