Remembering 9/11: Relief in Action

I am participating in a sponsored campaign hosted by Advil®, as a part of the Advil® Relief in Action campaign. I received compensation for this post. While all opinions stated are my own, I make no claims about Advil® as a product or its effectiveness.

When Blogher & Advil® asked me to write about volunteering, I jumped at the opportunity.
I think volunteering & giving back is so important and I love that Advil® has a Relief in Action campaing that honors & supports people who don't let pain get in the way of helping others.
Growing up, volunteering was always a big part of my life (even if I didn't realize it at the time) My mom worked at our church, so when I was in middle school and high school, I always volunteered at VBS and helped in the nursery at church during the summer.  I went on 3 mission trips during those years to build homes in Mexico and one year I went to the orphanages in Mexico and cared for the children there for a week. I am thankful for those opportunities because they have helped shape who I am today.
When I got to college, I continued to volunteer and was on the  volunteer staff for a middle school youth group at the church I went to in Boulder.  I had so many positive role models & volunteers in my life, so I wanted to give back and do that for others.
One of the most impactful volunteer experiences I had was months after the 9/11 attacks.  A group of 20 people from our church had the opportunity to go on a mission trip to New York City to volunteer at St. Paul's Chapel & the NYC Salvation Army. I knew I had to go and I got my sisters to also come. We got special clearance passes that we had to wear at all times:I can't even put into words the experience I had. The words I have typed won't even do it justice. I fell in love with the people of NYC, the NYPD & the FDNY.
I went in honor of the men, women, police officers & firefighters who lost their lives that day. I went to serve those who were serving others. It was a trip that changed me. It was an experience that I will treasure in my heart for the rest of my life. The city of New York & the FDNY hold a special place in my heart.My sisters & I all got to work together on the same shifts. Because we were the "younger" ones on the trip, we were signed up for the graveyard shifts on both nights.The first night we worked from 8 pm to 8 am at St. Paul's Chapel at the edge of Ground Zero. St Paul's Chapel had become the home base for all of the NYPD, FDNY & construction workers who were clearing out the debris from the Twin Towers.At St. Paul's Chapel the PD, FD & workers could come to the church for meals, dry clothes, showers, toiletries, a place to sleep or a place to go talk to someone or pray.St. Paul's chapel was at the edge of the World Trade Center & was miraculously untouched by all of the debris. It became a rest & relief center for the workers. The outside walls of the church became a memorial where visitors came & posted letters & American flags.Our job was to help prepare food, gather supplies & talk to workers/volunteers to try to keep their spirits up. The night we were there, it was mostly firefighters from FDNY who were coming to the church. As we served them food they would recount their stories. They told us what they did on 9/11, how they responded to the call & about the family & friends they had lost.These were real stories about real people. It was heartbreaking & tragic. But there was also hope. The American spirit was alive. People were crying out to God in despair, but also looking to Him because He is the one who brings hope, peace & love in the midst of crisis.One firefighter, Jack K (FDNY Ladder 54) poured out his heart to me and my sister. He was a firefighter who came from a family of firefighters. The past year he had gone through a divorce. He told us of the uncle, cousin & brother that he lost on 9/11. He was so grateful to us & couldn't believe we came all the way from California to help out - (it was the LEAST we could do!). Despite all of the serious conversations & tears that were shed, he was also a jokester & kept giving me a hard time about being 22 and getting married at such a young age.Toward the end of the night, Jack told me & two other girls to come with him so he could give us a closer look at ground zero. He let us into the FDNY Suburban & drove us into the "pit" of ground zero so we could get an up-close look at what was going on. We had to cross through all this security & the pit of Ground Zero was 20 stories below street level. "The pit" took up 17 acres! It was HUGE! The pit during the day:The pit at night:It was where the Twin Towers once stood. I couldn't believe how big it was. It was amazing & horrifying at the same time.I know these pictures of the chain link fence don't mean anything to you, but these are the only pictures I was allowed to take when I went into the pit. (I actually wasn't supposed to take pictures, but I did anyways!) I wanted to document it so that I would remember it. Being at the bottom of "the pit" and looking up was surreal. We had to wear a mask in the pit because of all the toxins that had been released in the air from the Twin Towers falling. A few months after I got back from the trip I had a package from the NY Department of Health 9/11 Registry. I have to fill out a questionnaire every year to make sure I have no "health" effects from being at Ground Zero.The next night we had the graveyard shift at the Salvation Army Respite Center on the other edge of the WTC. The Salvation Army set up "The Bubble", which was a huge white tent. It was seriously huge, about the size of a football field, but all enclosed.We served hot meals there & beds were set up for the workers. The Bubble was mostly for the construction workers & clean-up crew. I honestly don't remember much about this night because I was so delirious from lack of sleep; we had only gotten three hours of sleep in 48 hours. I remember serving food & clearing people's plates. At that point, I was emotionally & physically overwhelmed. This is Becks & I on the subway heading back to the hotel after our second shift. So exhausted!Below is a picture I took of the Miracle Cross. On 9/11 when the Twin Towers collapsed, a Cross of steel girders was somehow left standing, torn away from the rubble and destruction of the Twin Towers. Henceforth the Miracle Cross. It is a reminder to all that with our faith and prayer in God we will overcome what was brought upon us that day.The cross still stands today, a silent testament to the power of hope. It has become a destination for visitors to Ground Zero, and is part of the memorial for the WTC.
It was a volunteer experience I will never, ever forget. 
 A few years later after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, our church (again) organized a trip to volunteer to go to New Orleans & Mississippi and help rebuild homes that were destroyed. 
Churches from all over the country were involved in the project.
Sponsor churches built the framing of the houses in church parking lots & all the framing was sent on trucks to Mississippi/New Orleans for a neighborhood project called Victory Park.
Another group of churches had been there the week before pouring the foundation, so when we got there, our jobs were to get the framing up, put up the siding and windows, plumbing and electricity & paint the houses.
This is the house framing that our church did & then shipped to Mississippi on a truck:
A total of 16 new homes were built.
My sister and I volunteered for the painting team. It was a lot of fun, but a lot of work.
Since having kids, my time volunteering has looked very different. I haven't been able to go on any volunteer mission trips since NOLA in 2006. Instead, I volunteer in their Sunday School class once a month and help out in their classrooms when I can. 
When I can't give my time, I try and give money to charities that are important to us.
 My hope is that my kids will also grow up knowing the importance of volunteering and giving back to those in need. 
Advil® also thinks that volunteering and giving back is important.
 From helping rebuild homes and businesses devastated by Superstorm Sandy, to building homes for people in need through Habitat for Humanity® International, or being the ultimate volunteer- a veteran or soldier of our armed forces- Advil® is honoring  volunteers who actively give back to help others.
I want to encourage you to actively participate and join in the support of active volunteers. 
Ways you can do this are:
-        Follow @ReliefinAction on Twitter and Instagram
-        Share how you see Relief in Action by posting a photo with the hashtag #ReliefinAction on Instagram and Twitter. 
-        Visit http://www.advil.com/reliefinaction to learn more.


  1. Simply a beautiful post. Thank you for sharing & thank you for your dedication and support to all the individuals who were there during it all at a very sad time. ♥ May God bless you always!

  2. I really love this post and will definitely share it on my Facebook page!

    I'm part of the "Relief in Action campaing" as well and love being part of something awesome like that!




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