9/11 Reflection and Remembrance: Volunteer Recollections

The editors who prepared this September 2002 tribute article spoke to dozens of NAR members and AE volunteers over two days, gathering many more recollections than could fit in the print magazine. Those memories, along with additional heartfelt letters of gratitude from Relief Fund recipients, follow here in full.

September 1, 2002

No one will forget where they were the day the planes struck the World Trade Center towers, the Pentagon, and a remote field in Somerset County, Pennsylvania.

More than 3,000 people died in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks—and as the country mourned, surviving family members were forced to get on with the business of their lives. For many of the families who lost breadwinners, quick relief came in the form of temporary mortgage and rent payments from the REALTORS® Housing Relief Fund.

The Relief Fund was up and running within 30 hours of the attacks, launched with a $1 million contribution from the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® that quickly multiplied into more than $8.8 million and ultimately provided aid to 1,333 families. Contributions ranged from a few dollars donated by teenagers to $1 million from Fannie Mae; $825,000 from the California Association of REALTORS®; $590,000 from the New Jersey Association of REALTORS®; $500,000 from the staff and offices of Weichert, REALTORS®; $392,000 from the New York State Association of REALTORS®; and more than $100,000 from almost two dozen other state associations. In all, more than 23,750 individuals, companies, and associations donated to the Relief Fund.

In case after case, money from the Relief Fund was the first that family members received. “It’s made a major difference in my life,” WTC widow Debra Roberts told REALTOR® Magazine in December 2001.

“This was the REALTORS®’ finest hour,” says NAR President Martin Edwards Jr. “From local to state to national, we all worked as one.”

The American Society of Association Executives in June recognized NAR with its highest honor, the Summit Award, saying the relief fund “exemplifies the broad mission of associations to unite behind our society’s common goals and values.”

The contributions of the REALTOR® organization were legion, as the reflections of Relief Fund volunteers and heartfelt thanks of victims’ families attest.

THE VOLUNTEERS AND STAFF

“At first I was stunned, like the rest of America. Then I realized that as REALTORS® we must respond immediately by saying, ‘No victim’s family will lose their home as a result of the tragedy.’ When we raised and paid out more than $8 million dollars just 100 days after the attack, nothing has ever given me more pride in the great spirit of our REALTOR® members and our organization. During a time when our country really needed us, REALTORS® were there standing tall in the face of fear.” Richard A. Mendenhall, CCIM, CIPS, 2001 NAR president; RE/MAX Boone Realty, Columbia, Mo.

“The forethought of [2001 NAR President] Richard Mendenhall to mobilize key people at NAR was a gesture of magnificent proportion. He also came here immediately after Sept. 11 to give us the emotional support we’d need to deal with the stress we were about to face.” Shane Shapiro, director of communications, New Jersey Association of REALTORS®

“We did what REALTORS® should do: We helped people stay in their homes. It was remarkable that just about every local association contributed money, some in disproportionate amounts from areas that aren’t doing well economically.” David Reel, executive officer, Pennsylvania Association of REALTORS®, Harrisburg

"I spoke with top officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency just two days after the attacks to let them know about the REALTORS® Housing Relief Fund. Staff there were stunned that NAR had already made a $1 million donation and that we had been able to get the fund organized so quickly." Russell Riggs, environmental and regulatory specialist, NAR Regulatory and Industry Relations

“I'm very proud of the REALTOR® effort. In the very beginning, we were concerned about needing this approval and that approval. Then we said, ‘Wait a minute, these people can't wait.’ That's something that caught on with all of us.” Yolanda M. Mamone, CRB, ABR®, Randall H. Hagner & Co., Washington

“Homeownership is the American dream, and in our business we are extremely fortunate to assist people in achieving that dream. As it is our responsibility to help people achieve the dream, on September 11, it became our responsibility to help protect that dream for those who were impacted. I could not have been prouder of the way our people who make up our family of companies came together in support of the dream or than I was on the day I handed Richard Mendenhall, past president of the NAR, more than 2,850 checks from our sales associates, management, and staff totaling $500,000.” Jim Weichert, president, Weichert, REALTORS®

“We fielded well over 2,000 phone calls. Everyone on our staff helped in some way or another. We became relief workers, social workers. Even people we couldn’t help, we tried to direct to other resources. The phone calls were at times very difficult. People would call and want to talk about the victim. I remember one woman saying, ‘Today would’ve been my husband’s birthday.’ But instead of celebrating, she’s talking about how she’d make her house payment. I remember talking with a young woman in her 20s whose mother had died and who was now trying to care for a younger brother. Another survivor who’s a REALTOR® lost her husband, who was a firefighter. Out of the 712 families we helped, we helped families of 212 firefighters.” Sal Prividera, director of communications, New York State Association of REALTORS®, Albany

"I delivered checks to the wives of five victims—one woman from a very affluent area, the wife of the pilot whose plane went into Tower 2 and another working in a nursing home trying to make ends meet. It was the first assistance they received, and it meant a lot. One was already behind in her mortgage payments. I don't know if we [the real estate industry] got much notice for what we did; I don't know that we should. In our hearts we know we did the right thing.” George A Naylor, Jr., GRI, Prudential Fox & Roach, REALTORS®,Southampton, Pa.

“I’m a former police officer who specialized in rape crisis intervention. I’m never at a loss for words. But when I drove up to deliver a check from the Relief Fund to one young mother, I was speechless. The entire house was torn apart for renovation with some building equipment still in the yard. The woman’s husband—a firefighter killed at the World Trade Center—had been doing the renovation himself. She came to the door carrying one small child with three others behind her.” Carol Kope, CIPS, CRB, Coldwell Banker NRT Trust Division, Yorktown Heights, N.Y.

“The first check we delivered was the hardest. It was a young mother. The two of us on the evaluation team braced ourselves, but when she started to cry, we felt our own eyes well up. The attacks made me realize how important homes are to people. On 9/11, everyone just wanted to go home.” Joan Kuzniar, Susan E. Goldy Inc., Bronx, N.Y.

“Although the money was important to everyone the Relief Fund helped, I think what was more important was that the REALTORS® cared—not just financially, but emotionally. It’s something I’ll always remember.” Joseph L. Canfora, CRB, CRS®, Century 21 Selmar Realty, East Islip, N.Y.

“It was probably one of the best experiences of being a REALTOR®. There was a sense of commitment and fervor about the program. We delivered all our checks within 24 hours. We went to mansions in Westchester, to projects, to offices, even to a gas station. I’m active in the association, so I know its value. But for the salespeople in my office, being involved with the Relief Fund and working with people on the state and even national level showed them the value of being a REALTOR®.” Susan Goldy, GRI, Susan E. Goldy Inc., Bronx, N.Y.

“Delivering assistance checks was very emotional and painful. One woman told us that her husband had been a military brat and hadn’t wanted his kids moved around as he’d been. So keeping her house was a major issue. Every time I’m reminded of Sept. 11, I picture the families I visited. Those visits will stay with me the rest of my life. When my kids graduate and marry, I’ll remember the people who died and won’t get to see those events and the people left behind who’ll have to experience those events alone.” Eileen Hamblin, CRS®, GRI, RE/MAX Heritage, Melrose, Mass.

"I delivered about six checks in the Pocono Mountains. You can't help being moved when you're standing in front of a widow or a widower with children. The applicants got the money so fast after the accident that they were all in shock. But they were unbelievably appreciative.” Gerald “Jerry” Romanik, ABRM®, GRI, Summit Realty, Hawley, Pa.

"It was sad to read the applications, but it was wonderful to see people come together. I'm very proud to be a REALTOR® at this moment. With the economy being as sluggish as it is, we still were able to roll up our sleeves and go to work.” Robert Fleck, GRI, 2001 Pennsylvania Association of REALTORS® president; Coldwell Banker Fleck Agency, Danville, Pa.

“I delivered a check to a man who’d lost his wife, a civilian employee in the Pentagon. I think back to that day a lot, because it so personalized the event for me. He was very grateful for the assistance. I think it helped him to know there were people who cared and not only talked but also delivered. But he was so overwhelmingly sad. There's no way any organization, no matter how well meaning, can make a dent in that type of pain.” Brook Myers, CRS®, GRI, past president, District of Columbia Association of REALTORS®; City Houses, Washington

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