Submitted by dsong on
AmeriCorps Staff

On September 11 National Day of Service and Remembrance, we come together to pay tribute to the countless lives lost. Many still carry the pain of losing a loved one to the devastating 9/11 attacks, but we continue to honor each year the heroism our armed forces and emergency responders made that day and continue to make every day bravely. 

In 2001, from coast to coast, Americans stepped forward to volunteer and donate whatever they could to help the families of those lost, assist the injured, and support the emergency responders. AmeriCorps members and volunteers were among those who extended a helping hand, supporting recovery efforts, serving as family caseworkers, and helping those displaced from Ground Zero find housing and other services.  

Many who lost loved ones that day, also turned to giving back as a way to recover and heal, choosing to shine a light on the heroic acts and resiliency that followed the attacks through service. Today, these Americans continue that legacy, uniting in service across local communities nationwide to honor and remember their loved ones.  

9/11 Day Victim’s Son Honors Father through Public Service 

The 9/11 attacks are what motivated AmeriCorps alumnus Kevin to serve. Kevin’s father, Michael McDonnell, was a 33-year-old accounting manager who worked in the South Tower of the World Trade Center. Every night, Michael would come home at 6:30 p.m., in time for playtime with Kevin and his younger brother. But this routine ended for the McDonnell family on September 11, 2001, when Michael was killed in the attacks. Kevin and his family relocated to Florida, but that tragic day was influential in shaping his future. 

Nearly 14 years after 9/11,  Kevin moved back to New York to attend Niagara University. While at college, Kevin’s friend who also lost her father to the attacks introduced him to AmeriCorps. Kevin decided to join and serve his community through the Service Collaborative's Economic Opportunity Corps. 

Kevin and his parents.

“My father was not a first responder or a veteran, and neither am I. But his death on that tragic day is what guided me to commit to service. My mother taught me to love instead of hate, and I joined AmeriCorps because I wanted to help people. I continue to work with AmeriCorps programming after completing my service as the recruitment and outreach manager with the Service Collaborative. I work with nonprofit organizations in my role to lift up our fellow New Yorkers and Americans to a better and brighter future,” said Kevin. 

Kevin 2
Kevin and his father, Michael (left).

Kevin’s commitment to service stemmed from his mother’s teachings. His path from service to his career was shaped by seeing 9/11 Day as a positive force for change rather than a horrific act of violence. And today, he exemplifies how the spirit of compassion and service from 9/11 Day continues to unify our nation. 

Fallen First Responder’s Daughter Follows Father’s Footsteps, Dedicating Life to Helping People 

AmeriCorps alumna Cait was 10 years old when she heard the news that her father, Lieutenant Joseph Leavey of the New York City Fire Department, was one of the first responders who were killed at the World Trade Center. Cait chooses to remember those we lost by serving in their honor, just as Americans did after 9/11 Day. She shares how her journey to healing meant honoring her father through service. Cait’s commitment to service started at America’s Camp, a nonprofit camp for children who lost loved ones on 9/11 Day, which taught her that helping others is one healing process that allows people to turn the bad into the good. Cait carried this life lesson with her, joining Teach for America as an AmeriCorps member to support others in her community who have gone through trauma.

Cait and her father, Lieutenant Leavey.

“Looking back, my journey involved not only following in my father’s footsteps to help others but also finding the importance of community in my own healing. The way our communities came together after 9/11 Day was remarkable. It taught me that despite all our differences, we all have the ability to come together to listen, learn, and accept one another. I don’t think I would be the person I am today if it weren’t for these lessons. I learned how difficult and messy traumatic events can be in our lives, but also learned how resiliency can be beautiful,” said Cait. 

Today, Cait shares her healing journey with others who have gone through a traumatic experience as a mental health counselor. She helps others understand that they are not alone, just as she realized during her service journey. Cait continues to inspire others to serve on 9/11 Day and do what her father loved to do – help others in need. 

Unite through Service and Honor the Heroes and Families of 9/11 Day 

9/11 Day is a chance for Americans of all walks of life to come together and demonstrate that things that divide us are fewer than what unites us. While many Americans, like Kevin and Cait, live have been marked by national tragedy, they have chosen to learn the lessons of unity, compassion, and commitment. They showed us our shared values by working together to achieve more than what could be accomplished alone. Most importantly, Kevin and Cait’s stories convey the power service holds.  

Any act of service and kindness, big or small, builds connection and community to help others cope and heal. This September 11 National Day of Service and Remembrance, join us and volunteer to help rekindle the remarkable spirit of unity and service that helped heal many Americans in the aftermath of the 9/11 tragedy.