This blog is part of the series "The Impact of 9/11," focusing on individuals who have channeled their grief to make a positive difference in the years following the attacks.
On 9/11, Ann Nelson's life was tragically cut short while working at Cantor Fitzgerald on the 104th Floor of the World Trade Center. A woman with big hopes for her future, it seemed as if her goals and dreams had been destroyed that tragic Tuesday morning.
In the fall of 2005, Ann's mother Jenette sat down in the family home in Stanley, ND, and began the process of sorting through the files on Ann's laptop, which had been left untouched since it had been recovered from her daughter's New York City apartment in 2001. Months went by with Jenette sorting through documents on Ann's laptop as part of her daily routine. In March 2006, Jenette clicked on a file entitled "Top 100," which she had previously seen, but had though was a music playlist.
Much to Jenette's surprise, "Top 100" turned out to be Ann's bucket list. The list, which listed 36 goals, contained not dreams of wealth and fame, but rather goals reflective of who Ann was as a compassionate, adventurous, and loving person: to remember birthdays, to be a person to be proud of, to helicopter ski with her dad, to volunteer with a charity, and to one day return to her home state of North Dakota to build a home and raise a family of her own. The story of the bucket list was eventually recounted by Dan Barry in a May 2006 New York Times article entitled "Hope Saved on a Laptop."
Jeff Parness, Founder and Chairman of New York Says Thank You Foundation, learned of Ann's story through Charlie Vitchers, who served as the Construction Superintendent for the Ground Zero Recovery and Clean Up Project following 9/11 and who volunteers annually with New York Says Thank You's 9/11 Anniversary Build Project. Vitchers had met Ann's father, Gary Nelson, through a 9/11 family member who had also lost his daughter in the World Trade Center attacks. Vitchers introduced Parness to the Nelson's with the intention of getting the family involved with New York Says Thank You, which was started in 2003 at the suggestion of a 5-year-old boy and has grown into one of the nation's leading direct service-organizations to transform the 9/11 Anniversary into a positive platform for service by rebuilding structures and hope in disaster-affected communities nationwide.
Following numerous discussions with Gary and Jenette Nelson Parness became determined to help the couple fulfill their daughter's dreams. With three unique goals from Ann's bucket list in mind--to build a home in North Dakota, to helicopter ski, and to volunteer with a charity--Parness proposed to the Nelsons the idea of having New York Says Thank You volunteers build "Annie's House," in Bottineau, ND, as the state's first adaptive ski lodge to teach disabled children and wounded warriors how to ski.
Upon it's completion "Annie's House" will be a state of the art facility that will replace an existing ski lodge at Bottineau Winter Park Ski Resort. The new facility has been designed to accommodate the needs of skiers with both physical and cognitive disabilities and will also provide year-round adaptive sports programs that will empower disabled persons to participate in activities such as canoeing, fishing, waterskiing, and horseback riding. Additionally, a nonprofit entity, "Friends of Annie's House" has been formed to oversee the operations and continued success of the program.
From Thursday, September 6th, through Sunday, September 9th, Bottineau Winter Park will be flooded with New York Says Thank You volunteers from across the country. Among the hundreds of volunteers helping to build "Annie's House" will be 20 FDNY firefighters--many of whom are survivors of the 9/11 terror attacks--Ground Zero construction workers, 9/11 family members, wildfire survivors from Harbison Canyon, CA, Hurricane Katrina survivors from Slidell, LA, and tornado survivors from Utica, IL, Groesbeck, TX, Greensburg, KS, Little Sioux, IA, Ellijay, GA, and Joplin, MO.
"Annie Nelson wasn't just a statistic or a victim of the 9/11 attacks," said Charlie Vitchers. "She was a loving young woman who had promised to help make life better for so many others. This project is a continuation of her life and an opportunity for us to keep together the memory of her and so many others who had dreams unfulfilled. It's an honor to fulfill them."
To learn more about New York Says Thank You Foundation or the "Annie's House" project please visit www.NewYorkSaysThankYou.org
Follow Tracey E. Vitchers on Twitter: www.twitter.com/TraceyEVitchers