Volunteer Ministers from Clearwater, adjacent cities aid disaster relief locally and in New York.
he tragic news that unfolded from New York and Washington, D.C. on September 11 was met with a spontaneous, overwhelming flood of help from Americans coast to coast.
Lines formed to donate blood. Caravans of cars and trucks brought donated goods to the Red Cross, Salvation Army and other relief centers. Families flocked to church services; friends and strangers consoled one another.
As one New York man observed, “This was not an attack on New York, or on the United States. This was an attack on humanity.”
And humanity responded.
The most often-heard question in the hours that followed the terrorist attacks was, “What can I do to help?”
Among the thousands of Tampa Bay area citizens who joined the flurry of aid were scores of Volunteer Ministers of the Church of Scientology. They immediately organized and distributed food generously donated by local restaurants to the three blood donation centers in the Clearwater area, supplying much-welcomed sustenance to tired workers and those waiting to donate blood in the massive relief effort.
And for some, the first reaction was to go to New York to help — whatever they could do, however their services could be used.
Thus on September 12, a crowd gathered at the Clearwater City Library, from where 57 Volunteer Ministers boarded a bus to join Scientologists from New York, New Jersey and surrounding states who had been working at “Ground Zero” in Manhattan since hours after the disaster struck.
A second busload of more than 20 Volunteer Ministers departed on Saturday, September 15. They and their families gathered in a Church parking lot, where children gave hand-made “unity ribbons” of red, white and blue to each of the volunteers, and held up posters bearing messages of support in a send-off.
Among those who boarded that second bus was Cherise, a city employee who had seen Volunteer Ministers boarding the first bus on September 12. As she said later, she couldn’t help but feel that she should do something, too.
So she did. She asked how she could join the Scientologists going to New York, and was told of the second bus that would be leaving. First, however, she went to the Church of Scientology Mission in Clearwater to learn how to do basic techniques used by Volunteer Ministers to help others in need. Equipped with her new skills, Cherise boarded the bus for New York.
Techniques for Effective Aid
On arrival in Manhattan, the Clearwater volunteers immediately went to work, operating out of the Stuyvesant School three blocks from the disaster site, where Ground Zero relief headquarters had been established. Police had already put the local Volunteer Ministers in charge of relief operations at the location due to their skills in fast response and organization.
In conjunction with the Red Cross, the center serviced hundreds of fire fighters, policemen, medical workers and other rescuers with food, drink and clothing. Volunteer Ministers also conveyed these and other necessities to rescuers on the huge mounds of rubble where the World Trade Center towers once stood.
While Volunteer Ministers helped in all aspects of relief work, their unique skill, distinguishing them from all other vital efforts, is bringing relief from trauma, pain and sorrow. They used the simple but effective techniques found in the Scientology religion known as “assists”, which can be applied by anyone to help others. Not a substitute for medical first aid and continuing medical care that may be required, assists address the spiritual components of injury, illness and emotional pain.
They include the “locational”, which helps an exhausted, disoriented or traumatized person regain awareness of their surroundings — vital during emergencies, when people most need to be alert and able to focus on the work at hand. Assists for injury and illness, when used with first aid and proper medical care, can greatly speed healing time. Other assists help individuals overcome the depression, fear or grief of loss and tragedy, or help those for whom time seems to come to a standstill after a shocking incident.
Activating More Volunteers
The Volunteer Minister program is designed to equip anyone, no matter their creed, with the ability to help those in need.
Teams of Volunteer Ministers helped traumatized people in New York, giving assists, talking, listening, calming them and bringing them out of the horror of the tragedy.
They also activated other volunteers to help. After receiving an assist and deciding to join the relief efforts, one young woman immediately reunited a husband and wife who had become separated in the chaos. Many other volunteers on the scene, including social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists, were trained in the assist techniques and used them at the site with seemingly miraculous results. They rejuvenated hundreds of fire fighters, police, volunteers and relief workers who had been on the job for days on end. They helped alleviate the trauma of fire fighters who had to pull the bodies of their fallen comrades from the rubble.
Medics have routinely referred people to the Volunteer Ministers; as one New York Police Department medic told others, “These guys create miracles.”
The active presence of the Scientology Volunteer Ministers on the scene inevitably gained attention from media and authorities, with police and fire department officials and the Mayor of New York acknowledging their work. The New York Times profiled them and their contributions to the relief effort, also noting that among the 800 or more Volunteer Ministers who cycled through the scene in New York were those who came from Florida.
“Though many religious organizations are supplying assistance for the disaster, few are as well-organized as the Scientologists, or as evident at the scene,” read the Times article, which also ran in the St. Petersburg Times on September 21 (“Scientologists play large role in cleanup”). “When many volunteers were asked to clear out over the weekend, the Scientologists were allowed to stay, working alongside groups like the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army.”
Cherise, the Clearwater city employee who joined the Volunteer Ministers, experienced that work first hand.
“The way I see this trip to New York, is that it was all about helping and that is what we did. I am grateful to the Scientologists for giving me the opportunity to go and I am so glad that I found this way to give my help to those people in New York,” she said on her return to Clearwater.
Relief Efforts in D.C., International
Volunteer Ministers were also on the scene at the Pentagon outside of Washington, D.C. Among them were Church members who had been participating in services in Clearwater when the terrorists attacked, and immediately went back to Washington to help.
The volunteers worked with the North Carolina Baptist Men, a relief agency brought in by the Red Cross, trading off shifts. Along with Red Cross workers and volunteers from the Salvation Army and other religious organizations, they provided food and coffee through many nights to police, FBI, fire fighters, hazardous materials handlers, morgue workers, and military personnel working on rescue and recovery operations at the Pentagon.
They also provided assists, talked with those who needed some solace or respite, and acknowledged all workers for their dedication and perseverance.
Volunteer Ministers have worked for years alongside the Red Cross, government emergency offices, paramedics and disaster relief agencies both in the United States and internationally. They have come to the aid of thousands after devastating earthquakes including those in Los Angeles, Mexico City, Colombia, Sakhalin (Russia) and Japan; tornadoes and floods in the United States; Hurricane Andrew in Florida and hurricanes in Puerto Rico and Nicaragua; and the tidal wave in Papua, New Guinea. They have helped the victims of man-made disasters including the Oklahoma City federal building bombing and war-torn Kosovo.
Volunteer Ministers who have been involved in one or more of these relief efforts, however, concur that none of the disasters match the levels of destruction they have witnessed from the terrorist attack on America.
And, like true Americans, they have responded with spontaneous, unreserved help.
“It’s the least I could do,” said Penny Jones from Clearwater. “As a Scientologist, I know how to help people in time of disaster and need. I could quickly reorganize my life to go to New York, which many people could not.
“There are still many things people can do locally to help, also moving beyond the immediate disaster. We have to repair the national wounds and prepare for the future. People should go to church, mosque or temple, join local relief efforts, and get trained as a Volunteer Minister,” she said.
Pat Harney, public affairs director for the Church of Scientology’s international retreat in Clearwater, said that training in the fundamental techniques used by Volunteer Ministers is provided as a public service and available to all who want to help others. “We invite and encourage anyone to become an active Volunteer Minister,” she said.
To find out more about becoming a Volunteer Minister, or for more information, contact:
Volunteer Minister Coordinator,
6331 Hollywood Boulevard, Suite 708
Los Angeles, CA 90028