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Michelle Nunn Headshot

Honoring 9/11 Through Service: A Fitting Tribute

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When terrorists struck New York on 9/11, Ann Seligman wanted to help. So, like thousands of her fellow citizens, she volunteered.


Working with New York Cares, a local volunteer organization, Ann helped people affected by the attack receive the assistance and care they needed to rebuild their lives. She also planted daffodils at Grand Army Plaza with bulbs donated by the Netherlands. "With every bulb we planted, we could feel the world grieving with us," she remembers. "That helped so much." So did the sense that planting was an inherently optimistic act. "It reminded us that spring would come," she says.


A third-generation New Yorker, Ann had been active in her community. But after 9/11, she felt more committed than ever. "I am a New Yorker," she says. "I realized how much this place really matters to me." So she upped her commitment, becoming a Team Leader for New York Cares and helping organize other volunteers to serve. She's currently leading a project in the Bronx giving immigrants the chance to practice speaking English every week. "It gives me so much hope for the future," she says.


Ann's story embodies the spirit of America after 9/11 -- the visceral impulse to join together, to be a part of healing by serving that characterized our nation as we grappled with tragedy. People across the country responded with a spirit of generosity that took the form of uniting, giving and acting. That spirit is a critical part of the legacy of 9/11.


That's why the 9/11 Day of Service and Remembrance was created. The process to make it an annual, federally recognized event began under President Bush and was signed into law by President Obama in 2009, ensuring we remember those who lost their lives, not only by paying tribute, but also by giving back.


This year, we will mark the 10th anniversary of 9/11 with one of the largest days of service in American history. A coalition of organizations, brought together by MyGoodDeed, are recruiting a million people to engage in an act of charitable service. People are saying "I Will" and committing to paint schools, plant trees, tutor children, prepare care packages for soldiers and feed the hungry.


Points of Light Institute, the nation's largest facilitator of volunteer service, will provide expertise and experience for nonprofits to mobilize hundreds of thousands of citizens through its HandsOn Network. American Express, the lead contributor to the project, is engaging employees and customers to act and remember. Anyone can participate by using the "I WILL VOLUNTEER" app on American Express' Facebook page to sign up and share volunteer opportunities in their communities.


According to a poll commissioned by MyGoodDeed last year, Americans embrace the idea. Over 60 percent of those surveyed -- and 84 percent of those between the ages of 21 and 34 -- are ready to commemorate 9/11 with service. More than half described themselves as new to volunteering.


But this is about more than one day; it's a call to action that taps into the American ideal of giving back. It's about motivating corporations to engage and building true capacity in the service movement by training leaders and volunteers. We want to ensure this moment of national unity not only helps mend the wounds of 9/11, but also helps build our nation's future.


On the 10th anniversary of 9/11, and every anniversary of this tragic day, we will remember. But, we will do so much more than that. By making 9/11 a Day of Service and Remembrance, we honor those lost by rededicating ourselves to the spirit that has shaped our national character. Where those who meant to do us harm struck down our neighbors and knocked down our buildings 10 years ago, we are creating something anew -- we are building a movement; harnessing the compassion of Americans to invest in our communities, strengthen our country and reaffirm our faith in the future. So say "I will," and join us in the ultimate tribute.


Tim McClimon is president of the American Express Foundation.

Michelle Nunn is CEO of Points of Light Institute.