Changed by 9/11: Walter Sweet

Village resident remembers working with New York City agencies on 9/11 services and reminds us of the many who volunteered who still need assistance.

Babylon Village resident Walter Sweet lived in Manhattan at the time of the 9/11 attacks and found himself in the middle of the chaos that day, as he went to work at The New York Community Trust, a foundation that become involved in the immediate charitable response after September 11th.

"I recall leaving the subway in midtown Manhattan and seeing the smoke up high," Sweet said. "People on the street said two planes hit the towers. I didn't understand at the time what had happened, thinking it was a terrible accident, and I had no idea that I would soon become part of the recovery effort."

Sweet worked at The Trust as a program officer and after the attacks the foundation established, in collaboration with the United Way, the September 11th Fund, which grew to be the largest pool of money for recovery after the funds raised by the American Red Cross.

"As the community foundation for New York City, The Trust had a very important role to play in the days following and for years to come," Sweet said.

The September 11th Fund collected more than $500 million dollars from millions of donors and foundations from across the country and world. The fund made grants to support charities that were working to provide care and services to those impacted by the attacks.

"Early on I found myself at the emergency operations command center on the piers," Sweet said. "The mayor and governor as well as military personnel were directing operations. I was there to learn where the gaps in services were and support programs that would directly help people. I'd been a program officer at The Trust for some time, but my area of expertise was not disaster assistance. I had to learn fast."

Just getting a handle on the acronyms of the government agencies and the hundreds of charities that rushed to ground zero offering help was a challenge. It was a time when you could get large businesses, or just about anyone, to volunteer their services. For example, IBM agreed to provide pro bono consultants to establish a help center downtown in collaboration with the city. Such free help was unprecedented but at the time helping was viewed as a patriotic duty."

Grants from the fund supported counseling, mental health services, cash assistance, and case management services for those that lost loved ones, evacuees and others that were there and aided in the recovery.   

"Later, because of this experience, I was asked to be the senior program person for grant program that the Red Cross started in 2004 to meet the long term needs of the victims," Sweet said. "In many ways, the events of that day have altered the direction of my professional life." 

Ten years later Sweet reflects: "I still recall the intensity of the first months. I grew to know many people who lost their children or brothers and spouses. Despite their indescribable losses, many have exhibited a resiliency that I do not think I would possess in similar circumstances. Even today, the physical and emotional needs remain, including health impacts from the brave people who worked on the site. I'm grateful to have played a small part in trying to help those in need from that terrible day."

Jen Clark September 12, 2011 at 12:40 PM
Great arcticle, I think we were all changed that day.


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