An account of volunteers at Ground Zero, and how it changed their lives forever.
An account of volunteers at Ground Zero, and how it changed their lives forever.
by Gail M. Armstrong and Richard Wieland
n the morning of September 11, Craig Taylor watched billowing smoke and ashes engulf the ruin of the World Trade Center and roll toward his Manhattan studio on 28th Street.
A fashion designer whose label is worn by names from Martha Stewart and Robert Redford to the Queen of Thailand, Taylor was to attend a meeting with a client at 9 a.m. in the World Trade Centers north tower, postponed shortly beforehand due to a change in the clients plan.
Like most Americans, his shock over the terrorist attacks was soon overpowered by an urge to do somethinganythingto help.
By 10:30 a.m., Taylor and several of his employees joined a stream of others making their way into the Manhattan Church of Scientology, half a block from Times Square. The growing ranks of Scientology Volunteer Ministers organized themselves, converting the churchs reception and basement into headquarters for operations. Volunteers began hitting the phones for water and food supplies, blankets, transport and more volunteers. Others organized into the first groups to go to Ground Zero to begin providing support for the firemen, police and other emergency forces.
|NEW YORK CITY Mayor Rudolph Giuliani (middle) acknowledges efforts of some of the more than 800 of the Volunteer Ministers who contributed to the relief effort in the weeks following the terrorist attack.|
There was this unspoken feeling of brotherhood out there, this ray of compassion in the middle of such overwhelming destruction, said Taylor. We all needed each other, and everyone just started working, finding anything to do, and doing it.
It Was All About Helping
ore than 800 Volunteer Ministers eventually arrived at Ground Zero over the ensuing daysa majority of those, like Taylor, from New York and surrounding states, but many from cities across the U.S. and Canada, including more than 80 volunteers who traveled from Florida.
Dozens were social workers, grief counselors and others who came to the Church, underwent rapid training in the basic skills learned in the Volunteer Minister program, and joined the forces at Ground Zero. Several told of how other agencies turned away volunteers, saying they had enough or too many.
Volunteer Ministers stayed for periods ranging from a day to two weeks, in the round-the-clock undertaking to support the firefighters, police, emergency medical technicians and other rescue teams.
LOS ANGELES-BASED COMMERCIAL PILOTS RANDY HEPNER (LEFT) AND ERIC WIERMAN cleared the first flight they could make from Los Angeles to New York on September 14. They contributed to the Volunteer Minister relief efforts at Ground Zero, supporting firefighters and other rescue workers with individual assistance and by organizing provisions and supplies.
Readily identified by their distinctive yellow T-shirts, the Volunteer Ministers became known for fast responses and willingness to undertake any task.
What I witnessed with the Scientology ministers I have never witnessed with any of the other organizations, said a Manhattan emergency medical technician. Even the fire department in the beginningthe ambulance personnelwere not available. Who was available from the beginning were the Scientology ministers.
Along with the hundreds of volunteers from the Red Cross, Salvation Army and other support networks, the Volunteer Ministers serviced rescue workers with food, drink, clothing, protective gear and other physical necessities. They conveyed needed items to crews on the mountains of rubble where the World Trade Center towers once stood, and manned lines hauling buckets of debris from the remains of the buildings.
hile the Volunteer Ministers contributed to all facets of the relief work, they brought with them their own special skills to relieve physical stress and mental trauma for those working at the site. The volunteers used techniques in the Scientology religion known as assists, developed by founder
MANHATTAN CLOTHING DESIGNER CRAIG TAYLOR closed shop on the morning of September 11 and joined the Scientology Volunteer Ministers with several of his employees, going to Ground Zero to aid rescue crews around the clock.
Among those providing assists at Ground Zero were Los Angeles-based commercial pilots and Volunteer Ministers Randy Hepner and Eric Wierman. Accustomed to piloting celebrities aboard Gulfstream jets to a myriad of international locations, the two aviators cleared the first flight they could make from Los Angeles to New York on September 14, where they were able to join the endeavor at Ground Zero for 24 hours.
For Hepner and Wierman, it was an opportunity to serve on the front lines after, as Wierman put it, being glued to the television, feeling almost completely helpless in terms of supporting the rescue efforts.
Shortly after arriving at Ground Zero, they each gave the first of several assists they would provide to emergency workers. Wiermans was to a waiting fireman. The exhausted mans outer protective gear was torn and his inner uniform drenched in sweat; the grim nature of the task at hand showed on his face.
During the assist, Wierman said, I observed a progressive change in his facial expressions. He looked visibly different, more full of energy and clear-headed.
As word spread of the effectiveness of the assists, rows of firemen and members of other crews could be found receiving them in the relief shelter.
We get a lot of the credit, said one New York police officer, But I think a lot of the credit has to go to the people on the outskirts, such as the Scientology minister volunteers that provided us with comfort while we were down there, at a time when we needed itprobably more than most people understand or realize.
hile all Scientology Volunteer Ministers learn the techniques of assists, continued training has provided many with organizational skillsas the first action to be taken in an emergency or disaster, in addition to first aid, is to bring order.
The magnitude of the disaster was overwhelming, said Hepner. It was a real challenge for all operations to fully mobilize and come up to speed.
There were piles of unorganized, random supplies dumped on the sidewalk. People had to rummage for protective gear, Wierman said. But such gear was in short supply and he watched in frustration as rescuers continued to go into the worst areas without it. Doctors in a triage area next to him were treating firemen and others with lung and eye injuries; neither they nor the Red Cross had respirators, the item most urgently needed.
Wierman inquired and searched until he found respirators supplied by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) deep in the American Express building. He rapidly learned the respirators assembly and use, carted armloads of them back to triage, and provided group demonstrations to more than 60 firemen. He then organized the activity, resulting in a continual supply of respirators for the crews.
Volunteer Ministers organized assistance in all areas, bringing help to where it was needed.
The rescue operations were so intense you had firemen and others who couldnt leave what they were doing, said Kay Lorin, a New York native who grew up five blocks from the World Trade Center, referring to those working on the mountain of debris from the towers or in the 70-foot underground foundation.
Going around the clock, Lorin and other Volunteer Ministers organized and then manned a station next to where teams descended into the foundation. They served a continual stream of workers with food, cold drinks and coffee, and provided assists.
A Common Purpose
he effective aid of Scientology Volunteer Ministers spread by word of mouth among police, firefighters and officials.
The organization, the caring and the dedication of your Volunteer Ministers were exceptional, and very much appreciated, and will long be remembered by those who received their help, wrote New York City Police Chief Joseph Esposito in the weeks following the relief effort. I cannot thank the Volunteer Ministers enough.
Volunteer Ministers also helped citizens throughout the city traumatized by the events, or who lost friends, family or coworkers.
A financial services company located in the World Trade Centers north tower, Cantor Fitzgerald, lost more than 700 employees in the tragedy. A special organization, the Cantor Fitzgerald Relief Fund, was established to aid family members of the employees, and Volunteer Ministers worked with this group.
Your continued support and assistance is invaluable, wrote the co-executive director of the Fund to the Volunteer Ministers. Every person, without exception, who has passed through these doors from the Church of Scientology has been extraordinary. Words of thanks are inadequate and escape me.
Volunteer Ministers repeatedly said that team spirit, camaraderie and compassion permeated the site of the disaster and carried the rescue and relief effort forward.
As Eric Wierman noted at the time, I am witnessing first hand and experiencing an incredible power that is generated when effective groups come together, unite, with a common purpose. I realize this is a captured moment, never to be forgotten.
What I experienced at Ground Zero will live with me forever, said Kay Lorin. I cant put in words what it means to be able to help others, and to know that you really made a difference in their lives.