On September 11, 2001, America saw the worst terrorist attack on its soil. But on September 12, 2001, America came together like never before. People across the country collectively sent New York City a surge of support that brought all of us a little closer.
Families who lost loved ones have, over the years, turned tragedy into triumphs of human spirit. They've started nonprofits, initiatives and campaigns dedicated to improving lives in a variety of small and big ways. We've put together a list of the incredible people who paid it forward when just moving forward was hard enough.
2. The Feal Good Foundation
When John Feal sustained a minor injury at Ground Zero, he was admitted to the hospital, and saw injuries far more horrifying than his own. Inspired by how much he had left to give, he started the Feal Good Foundation, dedicated to assisting first responders and emergency personnel.
The foundation also worked to pass H.R.847, the "James Zadroga Health and Compensation Act," which provided medical support to those affected by 9/11 by creating a permanent and mandatory World Trade Center Health Program. The bill was signed into law by President Obama on Jan. 2, 2011.
3. Peter C. Alderman Foundation
Peter Alderman was 25 years old, attending a conference at the World Trade Center's Windows on the World when the towers fell. In his memory, his parents created the Peter C. Alderman Foundation in 2003, dedicated to healing the emotional wounds left by terrorist attacks and acts of mass violence.
Today the foundation runs eight trauma clinics in Cambodia, Kenya, Liberia and Uganda.
His parents wrote, "As an Iraqi psychiatrist told us last September 11th: 'Because Peter lived; the world is a better place.' We are leaving a profound and indelible mark that Peter existed on this earth."
Todd Ouida Children's Foundation has raised more than $1 million for victims in catastrophes like Hurricane Sandy. It's also pioneered a school program called Zippy's Friends, in an effort to help children cope with anxiety, depression and loss.
5. 9/11 Day
Jay Winuk's younger brother Glenn helped evacuate his law offices on 9/11, then ran into the south tower to continue rescuing others, losing his own life in the process.
Winuk cofounded the nonprofit MyGoodDeed with his friend David Paine in 2002, which annually celebrates and advocates for a day of service called 9/11 Day. MyGoodDeed also lead the effort to formally designate September 11 as a national day of service. It became federal law in 2009.
Paine told HuffPost that more than 80,000 people made pledges to perform good deeds this year, a 300 percent increase over 2012. Yesterday alone the 9/11 Day website received 75,000 visits.
MyGoodDeed co-founders David Paine (L) and Jay Winuk attend the Broadway Unites: 9/11 Day of Service and Remembrance ceremony at Times Square on September 9, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by D Dipasupil/Getty Images for The Broadway League)
About 40,000 teachers downloaded the lesson plan last year, and half of those taught the lesson in conjunction with a service project for their students, facilitating book drives, fundraisers and food drives in their neighborhoods.
7. New York Says Thank You Foundation
Inspired by the outpouring of support that New York received in the wake of 9/11, native New Yorker Jeff Parness began a nonprofit called New York Says Thank You.
Every September, victims of past disasters step up to help current victims rebuild their lives. So far the organization has helped those affected by wildfires in San Diego, tornados in Oklahoma and Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy.
Wildfire clean-up project, San Diego County, November 2-4, 2007
Photos courtesy of the New York Says Thank You Foundation
8. Michael Lynch Memorial Foundation
Michael Lynch was one of the 342 firefighters who lost their lives at Ground Zero. His family and friends created the Michael Lynch Memorial Foundation in his honor, providing educational opportunities for the children of firefighters and others affected by disaster.
So far the foundation has raised more than $3.5 million in college scholarships for more than 130 students. This year they raised more than $600,000 for 20 new grant recipients, four of whom lost a parent in the 9/11 attacks.
Michael Francis Joseph Lynch
Photo courtesy of the Michael Lynch Memorial Foundation
9. 'The Blue Skies of Autumn' Elizabeth Turner lost her husband in the north tower when she was seven months pregnant. She wrote a memoir titled 'The Blue Skies of Autumn," and all the profits are being donated to the Red Cross to help future victims of tragedy.