Sept. 11 Attacks: Youth Agencies Feel Impact

Andrew D. Beadle
October 1, 2001

The executive director of YouthAction, a YouthBuild program serving 70 kids, was standing in a downstairs lobby at the World Trade Center (WTC) on Sept. 11 when the first plane hit.

One of the passengers on that plane was Barbara Keating, the founder of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Framingham, Mass.

And watching the terror through their windows were youths and youth workers at The Door, a multi-service agency four blocks away.

Like much of the country, youth agencies and youth workers were affected in countless ways by the terrorist attacks last month – starting with the moment of impact and extending in the weeks after, through efforts to help in the recovery work and to help youths cope with the tragedy.

While the youth-focused Hayden Foundation struggled to restart its New York operation after its offices across the street from the World Trade Center were damaged and shut down, the Boy Scouts of the Greater New York Council dragged about 500 cots into the city for rescue workers. The council also opened one of its New Jersey camps as a military staging area for soldiers and rescue workers to shower and sleep.

The YMCA of Greater New York provided emergency housing, child care and counseling services to rescue workers, victims’ families and stranded travelers. The Children’s Aid Society offered money, food, clothing and other aid to families directly affected by the attack, and began coordinating efforts for ways to help the city’s neediest families and youth in the near future.

And youth service providers around the country began trying to help youths make sense of the attack.

“They heard and saw it,” said Joseph Collins, director of education programs at The Door. “There’s a lot of anger among our young people, and fear.”

Elijah Etheridge of YouthAction and one of his staffers felt the fear first-hand, as they were at the WTC for a meeting when Flight 11 struck. After scurrying from the blast area back to his office, Etheridge was deluged with calls from kids in YouthAction: He said “100 percent” of the youths in the program wanted to volunteer to help. Over the following days the youths worked at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, north of the WTC, with thousands of other volunteers sorting supplies and feeding rescue and recovery workers.

Michael J. Caslin III, executive director of the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship, was in his office about a half mile from the towers when the first plane hit. Caslin ran toward the site.

He helped set up and work a makeshift morgue and triage center in the smoldering remains of a Brooks Brothers store. Despite the chaos and death all about him, Caslin said the morgue “turned out to be a wonderful place to give dignity and peace to the victims.”

Youth from numerous programs got involved as well. Organizations like the Girl Scouts of the USA, the Boys & Girls Club, Girls Inc. and Camp Fire USA collected food, clothing and money for the relief effort. Some organized blood drives and sent workers messages of praise and hope.

Not lost amid the good deeds, however, is that kids need help as well.

Coming to Grips

“The young people need to understand it completely,” Etheridge said. “Everybody knows somebody that is related somehow to a victim.”

Youths at the East Harlem Tutorial Program peppered staff with questions, said executive director Carmen Vega-Rivera. “‘Am I safe in school, am I safe in the street?’ Some are scared, some are angry, some are really confused,” she said. And many are worried their volunteer mentors are either dead or simply won’t show up for the Oct. 1 start of the fall program.

Countless agencies and youth programs are using the Internet to guide adults in helping youth. (See box.) The Annie E. Casey dispatched crisis counselors to help families.

Staff from several agencies and programs said it was important for adults to listen to youth, have them talk about their fears and concerns, and reassure the youth that they are safe.

New York youth workers are coming to grips with how the event affected them. Many lost family members or friends, and feel the same anger and grief as do the youths they serve. The attack has also forced them to struggle with their perceptions about people of different cultures and religions.

“We felt like we had to educate ourselves first,” Vega-Rivera said. A planning session at the center quickly veered from mid- and long-term plans to the discomfiting issue of race. “I’m learning a lot about the Muslim faith.”

Agencies are striving to address long-range needs, like social services, that will not disappear with the last truck-full of rubble. Foundations, philanthropies and other groups have established funds for scholarships, day care, camps and other youth services.

The YMCA of Greater New York established a scholarship fund to provide facility memberships and child care services. The Hasbro Children’s Foundation established a fund to help support children who lost parents, and the Gap Foundation established a $10,000 scholarship in memory of Gap employee Ron Gamboa, who was on United Airlines Flight 175, the second to crash into the Trade Center.

The Ronald McDonald House Charities contributed $1 million for relief efforts, and the Citizens’ Scholarship Foundation of America created a college scholarship program for needy children and spouses of victims.

Youth workers were not spared in the attack. Several organizations lost clients, volunteers and members, and others had some close calls. The following were among the first known casualties:

  • Deora Bradley, 20, a junior at Santa Clara University in California, was an active America Reads volunteer and tutored children in reading at a Santa Clara elementary school. She died on the hijacked United Flight 93 that crashed in Pennsylvania. Bradley was also active in TRACE – Teens Respond to AIDS with Caring and Education – a peer education program.
  • Barbara Keating, 72, of Palm Springs, Calif., was the founder of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Framingham, Mass., and its director from 1982 to 1991. She was aboard American Airlines Flight 11, the first one to crash into the WTC.
  • Among those killed on American Airlines Flight 77, which hit the Pentagon, were three teachers and three students from Washington, D.C., public schools, and two adults from the National Geographic Society, who were flying to California. The teachers and youths were participating in a marine research project sponsored by National Geographic.

    They were among at least eight youths who died on the planes that were used in the attacks. A day care center at the WTC was evacuated without any reported deaths of children (as of late September).

  • The Charles Hayden Foundation sat directly across the street from the towers, in the Bankers Trust Building. The foundation makes grants to improve the mental, moral and physical development of youth ages 3 to 18 in the New York and Boston metropolitan areas. No one was killed, but the building was badly damaged. Foundation President Kenneth Merin is working out of a law firm and is looking for temporary office space. The rest of the New York staff is working from home. (The foundation’s other office is in Boston.) The foundation has stopped accepting grant applications for New York and is uncertain when it will resume.

John Kelly contributed to this report. Andrew D. Beadle can be reached at

and Reach Out."Youth Today, October 2001, p. 8-9.

©2000 Youth Today. Reprinted with permission from Youth Today. All rights reserved.