APEX, N.C. – Sixteen years ago was the deadliest day for law enforcement officers and firefighters in the U.S.
Every Sept. 11 at Kraft Family YMCA in Apex, first responders and survivors of the 2001 terrorist attack speak to kids about the event and teach them about their jobs and what to do in an emergency. The kids, ranging from fourth to sixth grade, learn about the gear, tour a firetruck and police car, and hear the story of a retired NYPD officer’s account of 9/11.
“We really wanted to keep the remembrance part of 9/11,” Beth Porter, director of volunteerism at Kraft Family YMCA, said. “It’s a way to honor them and to keep it alive, but give these kids an opportunity to be able to say thank you, recognize them and the lives that were lost.”
Keeping the memory alive was a key aspect of the 9/11 Survivors’ Presentation. Porter explained most have a story of where they were on Sept. 11, but kids this age weren’t alive yet and the presentation is teaching them about the importance of first responders.
“There are so many people in this crazy time of our world where you could bring together that are different just to say thank you,” Porter said. “Police aren’t scary. For some kids, police and firemen are a scary thing but the importance of knowing they are really on their side and not to be scared of will make a difference. We need to show that they’re on our side, and this is a way to say thank you to them. This is a way to say you’re part of our community and we need to appreciate them for what they do.”
JD Power, a Cary firefighter, said it’s a similar message — helping kids understand what first responders do.
“It’s keeping the methodology that civil service is good, and everyone that’s trying to help is good, and that’s the bigger message,” Power said. “They’re not going to save a life, but maybe one day they’ll be in our position.”
Bob Young, who is a retired NYPD officer, spoke while showing the equipment he used during cleanup and talking to the volunteers about that day.
“A lot of people had people who were affected by it,” Young said. “Some people in North Carolina remember it like yesterday. Some people don’t. It’s good when I get out there and talk to people, because they don’t realize how much NYPD did and what they’re still doing in order to combat terrorism.”
Young generally worked from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the World Trade Center, but on Sept. 11 he was leading training in a different location at 9 a.m.
“I would have not been here today,” Young said. “I was at home just getting ready to leave when the first tower got hit, so I jumped in my car and raced in. When the second tower came down, I was there.”
Teaching kids about Sept. 11 is difficult sometimes, he said. His kids, who were 5 and 3, learned about the attacks because he joined the terrorism task force after 9/11.
“You try to work with the older kids a little bit more on educating them on the event,” Young said. “With the little kids, you try to show them the equipment and have a fun time with them. There’s no real way to teach kids about this age on what happened because it was violent and an ugly time in our history. It was a lot of death that occurred. These kids are too young to understand that and really to speak to them of what happened there.”
Porter said everyone comes in with a different knowledge of Sept. 11, but she wants the kids to leave with an understanding that we should never forget.
“Everyone comes from a different place,” Porter said. “We typically try to get police and firemen here to make it a little more show and tell and make it a little more fun to watch and liven it up a bit knowing that we never want to forget. We want to appreciate and we want to serve them since that’s they’re job to serve us.”
The event in Apex is part of the National Day of Service, held every year across the country on September 11 in memory of those who sacrificed on that day in 2001, and in honor of those military members and first responders who still sacrifice for the nation every day.