09/10/2014 12:59 pm ET Updated Nov 10, 2014

Serve to Learn, Serve to Remember

As we gather this week to remember 9/11, many Americans will observe that fateful day with good deeds and volunteering through the 9/11 Day of Service and Remembrance.

Several of us at YSA still recall the bright blue skies of that Tuesday morning here in Washington, DC. I remember women walking past our office in stocking feet. The Secret Service had told them to remove their shoes to speed up their evacuation of the White House a few blocks away. CNN's homepage was overwhelmed with traffic and would not reload. But as one of the original National Partners for the 9/11 Observance starting in 2002, YSA recognizes that most of the children and youth we engage around the world today have fuzzy or no memories of that day.

For those 5-25 year olds, the images of 9/11 come from YouTube videos or history books. Young adults who are 25 today were 12 years old when the planes crashed in New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. Today's college freshmen were in kindergarten, shielded from the violence by their parents. Half of the children and youth in YSA's constituency were not even born in 2001.

So how do we sustain the "never forget" mantra and keep 9/11 from becoming just another asterisk on the calendar, such as Pearl Harbor Day is for most Americans?

To help youth find their voice, take action, and have impact on vital community issues, YSA suggests these ten timeless reflections about September 11th. We hope they inspire children and youth, and their adult champions, to create their own acts of kindness and remembrance and rekindle the common sense of community we all felt after 9/11:

  1. People came together to rebuild community;
  2. We became more aware of difference and more committed to understanding diversity;
  3. We grew to understand anew the importance of meeting basic needs, such as food, clothing, and shelter;
  4. The event generated a renewed patriotism and commitment to democracy;
  5. We were linked to and embraced by a global community;
  6. People supported one another with random acts of kindness and goodwill;
  7. We emerged with a new fervor and focus on a better future;
  8. Everyday acts of service can be heroic;
  9. We remember the many who answered the call to serve that day, when we encourage others to serve our communities today;
  10. Our community organizations helped us to survive and thrive.

For school-based or after-school project suggestions for each of these reflections, plus other grants and resources, please visit

Crises on the scale of 9/11 are rare, but individuals and communities struggle in ways large and small every day. As the organizers remind us, 9/11 Day is also about promoting unity, putting aside differences, and tackling challenges together.

If that spirit of tribute still moves you 13 years later, you may find additional volunteer opportunities in your community from VolunteerMatch or All For Good at the website.

Steven A. Culbertson is the president and CEO of YSA (Youth Service America), a nonprofit that engages youth to change the world in more than 100 countries on six continents., on Twitter, or on Facebook.

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