In the wake of the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, America was left grappling with the profound loss of life that continues today. Among those affected were countless children, many of whom were an average of 8 years old when they lost a parent in the attack. In the days following, unclaimed cars in train station parking lots and flowers piled up by their front doors served as a reminder of those left behind.
Friends and families attending numerous funerals knew they needed to act after seeing the direct impact of 9/11 on children. Terry Sears, one of the founding members of Tuesday’s Children, a Manhasset-based organization to assist those whose lives have been changed by terrorism, military conflict or mass violence, started to act in small ways.
During the early days of the organization 22 years ago, members received tickets to major sporting events to give out to families. These games were the first attempt to restore a sense of normalcy to the families, who could escape heartache for an afternoon.
Some of the kids in Tuesday’s Children were invited to stand on the field after former President George W. Bush threw out the first pitch at the World Series on Oct. 30, 2001, at Yankee Stadium.
“If she could look at her child and see her child smiling, then she would know things are going to be OK,” recalled Kathy Murphy, senior program director at Tuesday’s Children, about a mother at a game.
In the first few years of operation, the main service provided was mentorship. Although a parent could never be replaced, having a certified mentor step in and come to the child’s school events or going out and doing other activities made the loss more manageable.
Many of those lost on the North Shore during 9/11 were community-driven individuals, Murphy noted.
“It always struck me that all of these mostly men who perished that day were like the Little League coaches, the soccer coaches. I mean they were involved, guys. They were young families,” she said.
After the attack, a number of babies were born in total to women without a spouse, and while these children have now grown up, the ripple effect of the event has not stopped.
Listening to the concerns of these children led to the development of Tuesday’s Children programs like youth mentoring. These mentors, who undergo extensive training, can never replace a lost parent, but can bond with the children through activities so they’re not lonely. They also check in on schoolwork and, during the COVID-19 pandemic, they played online games together.
“We made a commitment, when the organization first opened its doors, to see every child through to adulthood,” Murphy said.
With 3,051 children left behind on 9/11, Tuesday’s Children has built a database that has assisted 50,000 people worldwide across 40 countries. Today, it is among the handful of organizations that remain dedicated to this cause, with the staff and board of directors unwavering in their commitment, Murphy said.
In 2008, Tuesday’s Children launched Project Common Bond, a program born from the desire of teenagers to connect with others who’ve experienced similar losses due to terrorism and military conflict. This program, designed for those aged 15 to 22, brings together young people from diverse backgrounds to learn about concepts of dignity and shared humanity.
“We’ve had kids from Palestine and Israel at the same time,” Murphy said. “In the beginning, they were not going to talk with each other. And in the end, they were like, we didn’t cause this in our countries. It’s political, but I like you.”
In 2017, they expanded their mission to help Gold Star families—the families of those who went into the military post-9/11 because of the attack. With 22 years of lessons learned, they’ve developed a long-term healing model that prioritizes trust, listening to concerns, and providing assistance to both parents and children.
Adapting quickly to the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, Tuesday’s Children transitioned all their programs to a virtual format. They provide assistance with college applications and scholarships, along with support for internships and career development. With 140 corporate relationships, they help young adults navigate internships, career development, and their goals.
The organization hosts monthly dialogue groups for surviving spouses. Over the years, the organization has seen issues evolve as the spouses age. Initially overwhelmed by loss and paperwork, they now face the challenges of being empty nesters, moving, assisted living and more.
“We created this dialogue group to let them know you’re not alone. A lot of others are feeling the same way,” said Murphy.
As the children who lost parents on 9/11 enter their 30s and start their own families, they too face a new difficult task of explaining the tragedy to their own children.
“They want to find the right words to try and explain it,” Murphy said.