While I was looking on the internet a few weeks ago trying to find some positive initiatives that came from September 11th I found the 9/12 Generation Project. The 9/12 Generation Project is the youth service-learning division of New York Says Thank You Foundation.
New York Says Thank You was started at the suggestion of Evan Parness, a five-year-old New York boy, whose father Jeff lost his mentor and business partner on 9/11. Evan suggested sending his old toys to the kids in California who lost their homes in the wildfires. Four days and nearly 100 volunteers later, Jeff drove a U-Haul truck cross-country with two friends from New York City to San Diego to deliver relief items to the California wildfire victims. They put a banner on the side of our truck that read NEW YORK SAYS THANK YOU. It was their way of making a statement that, while two years had passed since the World Trade Center terror attack, New Yorkers had not forgotten the love and support they received from across America in the days, weeks, and months following 9/11. Over a six-year period a filmmaker, Scott Rettberg, followed New York Says Thank You Foundation on all of its annual 9/11 disaster relief build projects to create what is now the documentary film “New York Says Thank You.”
The 9/12 Generation Project is a ten-year national youth service-learning initiative whose mission is to inspire and educate 1.5 million middle school and high school students with the positive lessons of humanity, kindness, and citizenship of 9/12 – the day after 9/11– when the Nation came together to help heal New York and those affected by the terror attacks. The 9/12 Generation Project’s goal is to activate these students in service-learning projects focused on community revitalization, disaster relief, and the arts and empower students to have a positive impact on communities beyond their economic means and geographic limitations while bringing to life the timeless and universal core values of citizenship that transformed our Nation on 9/12.
Tracey E. Vitchers, National Project Director and Co-Founder of The 9/12 Generation Project says it is necessary “because it provides an alternative, safe way for educators to teach youth about 9/11. Many educators struggle to explain to youth—especially those youth who were either not born when 9/11 happened or too young to remember the events of that day—exactly what happened and why without making their students feel unsafe. We provide educators with a service-oriented approach to 9/11 that makes youth feel empowered to take action.”
The 9/12 Generation Project piloted different aspects of in select schools across the nation over the past year that include Anderson County High School in Kentucky, Delaware Valley High School in Pennsylvania, Robert Blue Middle School in Iowa, and Leman Preparatory School in New York City. Tracey says, “The reactions have been astounding. Teachers seem to love the project and students get very excited knowing that the work they are putting in is going to help another community somewhere in the country.”
There are six innovative service-learning projects tied to disaster relief, community revitalization, and the arts. For example, one is the “Poverty and Disaster Relief” project, which asks teachers and youth to compare and contrast the economic effects two disasters—Hurricane Katrina and the Joplin Tornado—have had on the communities where the disaster occurred. Students then identify a disaster-affected community somewhere in the world that they would like to help and work with the chosen community to alleviate some of the community’s economic needs. The students can do disaster-relief, school, or food supply drives to help alleviate economic needs for their chosen community.
I asked Tracey a few questions about how our children can benefit and we as citizens can get involved and here is what she said
If parents or teachers want their children to benefit from the 9/12 Generation Project how do they get involved? Can parents gift it to their children’s school?
In order to track the implementation of The 9/12 Generation Project in schools, schools are required to register their participation in the project. Because of this, we ask that parents and teachers “ok” the project with their school before purchasing The 9/12 Generation Project for their school or classroom. Parents or educators can share the information on our website with the principal or guidance counselor of their local school, get the school to register through our website, and then purchase the service activation kit through PayPal for $99. Parents, grandparents, teachers, whomever can gift The 9/12 Generation Project a school, but the school has to agree to participate in the project before we will ship the kit to the school.
As someone who was across the street from the WTC on Sept 11th I have always wondered how I would teach my children about what I went through without scaring them, do you have suggestions on how to use the 9/12 Generation Project to help?
The 9/12 Generation Project provides a safe space to speak with children about 9/11. The educational version of the “New York Says Thank You” documentary film provides many “teachable moments” which we have created into a post-film discussion guide for teachers and parents to use to speak with kids about 9/11. There is no video footage from 9/11 in the “New York Says Thank You” film. There is only limited radio noise from that day that plays during a brief segment of the film. Additionally, segments of the film are shot at the now completed 9/11 Memorial, which creates opportunities to talk with youth about why the Memorial was created and why it looks the way it does. The educational version of “New York Says Thank You” is also unique in that it shows real kids talking about 9/11 while at the 9/11 Memorial. The kids are youth disaster survivors who have participated in New York Says Thank You annual 9/11 build projects and share their insights about 9/11 in an age-appropriate manner for children.
We also provide basic historical facts about what happened on 9/11 so you can speak with your children factually about what happened. Lastly, we identify free online resources to teach youth about 9/11 that are provided by the 9/11 Memorial & Museum and the 9.11 Tribute Center. Their materials are age appropriate and provide parents and teachers with tools to help them speak with children about 9/11.
What do you want people to know about the 9/12 Generation Project?
If you live in the state of Arizona or in one of the five boroughs of New York City, The 9/12 Generation Project is available for free for all public middle schools through a generous donation from the Christina-Taylor Green Memorial Foundation.
How can people help? If I live in another state how can I help??
People can help by making their local schools aware of The 9/12 Generation Project, by donating a kit to their local school, by donating to The 9/12 Generation Project, or by volunteering as school facilitators. They can also reach out to their state’s department of education to let them know about 9/12 Generation Project. It is a national initiative so we want to be in all 50 states over the next 10 years.
ABOUT TRACEY (in her own words)
I serve as the National Project Director for The 9/12 Generation Project. In my previous life, I was a feminist activist who worked with a reproductive health NGO in Amsterdam. I’m very young—I joined New York Says Thank You when I was 23—but think that my age offers a unique perspective to the 9/11 story and how I have chosen to create The 9/12 Generation Project with Jeff Parness and the National Project Manager, Lori Sullivan.
I was 13 on 9/11, which means I was old enough to remember exactly where I was when I heard the news that the Trade Center had been attacked, but young enough to not fully comprehend what was happening and why. 9/11 was my first day of classes at a private boarding school in Central New Jersey. I had moved into my dorm the week before and was sitting in my first American Civics class when I saw our headmaster, who was a tall and thin marathon runner come sprinting across the quad from the administrative building. He came into the history and social studies building and began to pull teachers out of classrooms. We were then directed to go to the Chapel. After all the students and teachers were gathered our headmaster gave us the news that the World Trade Center and Pentagon had been attacked. He said that the parents of all Day Students were to be notified that their children could be picked up early and all Boarding Students were required to return to their dorms and try to connect with their families. All I could think was “Where is my Dad?” He is a construction worker in New York City and we were never really sure where he was during the day. Sometimes he would arrive at his job site to find out he was being moved to another one that day.
Upon returning to my dorm, I was notified that my Mom had called and was on hold in the admissions office. I was escorted to the admissions office by a prefect and couldn’t believe how quiet the office was. Normally it bubbled with the chatter of the secretaries, admissions counselors and applying students, but today it was silent. Everyone was glued to the television. I got on the phone with my Mom, who was an elementary school teacher in Pennsylvania. She told me she didn’t know where Dad was, but that he was supposed to be working uptown and that he would be ok. The moment she told me Dad was going to be ok was when the first Tower fell. Everyone in the office screamed and began to sob. I somehow knew at that moment that my life would never be the same.
And it wasn’t. Suddenly, our school had to create an “outdoor mail room” where student mail was delivered in an open-air environment to prevent anthrax attacks. I had friends who lost family members. My uncle was appointed the superintendent for the Ground Zero Recovery and Clean Up Project. Signs that read, “If you see something, say something” popped up all over. The Manhattan skyline was irrevocably altered. Although I wasn’t in New York, I felt the effects of 9/11 all around me.
As I got older, I noticed even more changes. Suddenly, every college tour I went on included a spiel from the tour guide about how amazing the college’s Arabic or Middle Eastern Studies program was or, if they didn’t have one yet, a program was being created to address the needs of the post-9/11 world we now lived in. I had friends enlist in the armed forces because of 9/11. When I moved abroad after college, everyone who found out I was American wanted to know where I was on 9/11 as if being in New York on that terrible day had some sort of cache to it. I was undoubtedly part of the 9/11 Generation.
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