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Canadians at Ground Zero
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Freedom Magazine, published by the Church of Scientology

Helping Where Help is Most Needed

Canadian Volunteers rushed to the aid of firefighters, rescue workers and victims of the terrorist attacks. This is their story.

Scientology Volunteer Ministers
Marlene Gagne (bottom) from Montreal was among dozens of Scientology Volunteer Ministers from Canada who joined relief efforts at the site of the World Trade Center, working shoulder to shoulder with others to provide help and hope in the face of the horrible tragedy.
New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani (center) acknowledges the work of the Volunteer Ministers.

he tragic news that unfolded from the United States on September 11 was met with an outpouring of heartfelt response from Canada and around the world.

In Ottawa, one hundred thousand Canadians came together on Parliament Hill for a special service presided over by the Prime Minister in remembrance of the victims and to express solidarity with our neighbours to the south. Thousands left flowers outside the United States Embassy and Consulates; worship services that crossed faith boundaries almost spontaneously took place across the country.

Canadians have also generously donated millions of dollars for victims of the tragedy.

Others donated their time and skills, rearranging their lives to personally go to New York to help in the relief efforts.

Like Peter Van Kleef. The owner of a campground and trailer park in Niagara Falls, Van Kleef is a trained Volunteer Minister with the Church of Scientology, and so is better equipped than most to help in dire circumstances. And after the news of the terrorist attack, his first thought was getting to Manhattan.

“There was no question about it for me,” he said. “When you know you can effectively help in a situation like this, you’re driven by more than just the strong desire to help. It’s a responsibility to others.”

More than two dozen other Scientology Volunteer Ministers in Ontario and Quebec felt the same way, including Marlene Gagne from Montreal.

So Van Kleef, Gagne and other Canadian Volunteer Ministers—some from as far away as Vancouver—travelled to New York by any means available. Soon they found themselves with hundreds more volunteers from the Red Cross, Salvation Army and other relief agencies amid the mountains of rubble and ash—known as “Ground Zero.”

Serving the Needs

The arriving Volunteer Ministers immediately went to work in the around-the-clock efforts to provide support for the firefighters, police, emergency medical technicians and rescue teams, whose heroism will stand as a monument to courage and sacrifice for generations to come.

Volunteer organizations at Ground Zero operated out of the five-story Stuyvesant School, where relief headquarters had been established several blocks from the World Trade Center. By the time the Volunteer Ministers from Canada arrived, police had already put their New York peers in charge of relief operations at the school due to their fast response, efficiency and willingness to undertake any task.

“What I witnessed with the Scientology ministers I have not ever witnessed with any of the other organizations,” said an emergency medical technician from the Manhattan district. “Even the fire department in the beginning—the ambulance personnel—were not available. Who was available from the beginning were the Scientology ministers.”

The school centre serviced rescue operations throughout Ground Zero with food, drink, clothing, protective gear and other physical necessities. Volunteers established a relief station close to the heart of the grim operations, dubbed the “Freedom Cafe” by rescue workers; they conveyed needed items to crews on the huge mounds of rubble where the World Trade Center towers once stood and joined lines hauling buckets of debris from the remains of the buildings.

“These Guys Create Miracles”

While the Volunteer Ministers helped in all facets of the relief work, they also brought with them special skills to relieve stress, trauma and sorrow for those working at the site. The volunteers used the simple but effective techniques found in the Scientology religion known as “assists”. Not a substitute for medical treatment, assists address the spiritual aspects of injury, illness and emotional pain.

Scientology Volunteer Ministers
While Scientology Volunteer Ministers helped in all aspects of the relief effort, they brought special skills to relieve stress, trauma and sorrow for those working at the site, known as assists. A Volunteer Minister (bottom) gives an assist to a rescue worker that helps to alleviate physical discomfort.

They include the “locational”, in which an exhausted, disoriented or traumatized person is reoriented and made much more aware of their immediate 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.

Marlene Gagne gave assists to many rescue workers.

“The men coming to us were completely exhausted. They couldn’t carry on, but were determined to do so anyway,” she said. “After the assists, they were revived to the point where they could pull their boots back on and go back on the job.” For Gagne, seeing the changes is “an incredible feeling to be able to help someone so easily and effectively.”

Some assists use procedures from Dianetics, the best selling book by author and Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. As one New York firefighter stated, “It [Dianetics] helped me get through the ordeal at Ground Zero and recover from the anger, depression and anxiety that I felt.”

“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 it—probably more than most people understand or realize.”

Scientology Volunteer Ministers
“When you know you can effectively help in a situation like this, you’re driven by more than just the strong desire to help. It’s a responsibility to others.” – Peter Van Kleef

“There were a lot of very highly stressed, worn out, exhausted rescue people here,” said a rescue chief with American Rescue Team International, “and [the Scientology Volunteer Minister] contribution to helping them to deal with their problem and deal with their upset emotions, and to have some tranquility and rest, has been a very productive and very worthwhile effort.”

As one New York Police Department medic said while directing people to the Volunteer Ministers for help, “These guys create miracles.”

Bringing Order

While all Scientology Volunteer Ministers learn the techniques of assists, continued training has provided many with organization skills and efficiency—as the first action to be taken in an emergency or disaster, tantamount to first aid, is to bring order.

As Van Kleef described the scenario at Ground Zero, the sheer scope and urgency of the disaster created a highly confusing and disorganized state of affairs. Relief crews were not able to keep pace with rescue operations. Volunteer Ministers organized lines and supplied manpower wherever it was lacking to see that supplies and provisions got to where they were needed.

Van Kleef worked for many hours with several other male Scientology volunteers hauling supplies to the Freedom Cafe from the Salvation Army supply vehicles parked two blocks away from the site. They pushed or dragged carts over debris and fire hoses for the two blocks to the Cafe. He also helped to provide sandwiches and coffee to the rescue workers, to sort supplies at the Stuyvesant staging area, or to give assists—like all Volunteer Ministers, essentially helping wherever help was most needed.

Gagne spent most of her time helping at the Freedom Cafe, where, she said, rescue workers could find a moment of respite.

“I’ve never seen people with such dedication and purpose. Their will and their courage kept them going 24, 36 hours at a time under absolutely horrible conditions,” she said, referring to the men working on the mountain of debris from the World Trade Center towers or in their 70-foot underground foundation. Gagne said rescue efforts were most intense in the foundation, which also housed a reinforced area known as the ‘bomb shelter’, originally constructed for potential disaster. The hope factor ran high that survivors would be found there, or in cavities among the foundation ruins.

Scientology Volunteer Ministers
Scientology Volunteer Ministers assisted in relief operations at the Pentagon where terrorists struck their third blow on the United States on September 11.

The Freedom Cafe was located close to where rescue teams descended into the foundation, and volunteers served a continual stream of workers with food, cold drinks and coffee, and provided the helping assists.

The effective assistance provided by Scientology Volunteer Ministers like Van Kleef and Gagne and hundreds more, visible in their distinctive yellow shirts, spread by word of mouth among police, fire fighters and officials including the Mayor of New York, who acknowledged their work.

“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 an article in The New York Times profiling the work of then nearly 800 Volunteer Ministers who had participated in the relief effort in New York. “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.”

A Spirit of Helping

Volunteer Ministers also helped beyond the immediate disaster site, giving assists to citizens throughout the city distraught over the events, or who lost friends or family.

Over the first two weeks following the terrorist attack, more than 800 Scientology Volunteer Ministers contributed at Ground Zero and throughout New York City, some staying the entire time, others as long as they could. Among that corps of volunteers were citizens of other faiths, including social and religious workers, psychologists and others who were trained in the assist techniques.

The Volunteer Ministers emphasize that it was the work of all present at Ground Zero—the team spirit, camaraderie and compassion permeating the site of the disaster—that carried the rescue and relief effort forward, inspiring the firemen, police, EMTs and all workers and volunteers to rise above the horror and devastation.

As one Volunteer Minister expressed it 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.”

Van Kleef stayed in New York four days, Gagne six. Within several days of leaving the city, rescue efforts were officially ended and replaced by the grim task of cleaning up the massive mountain of mangled steel and rubble that remained.

Van Kleef said that the days he spent helping at Ground Zero were probably the most well spent of his life. “I don’t think there’s anything that can be more rewarding than being able to really help others and make a difference when it’s really needed,” he said. “And in this case it was more needed than anything I could even have imagined before the disaster happened.”

Help in D.C. and Internationally

Volunteer Ministers also responded at the Pentagon just outside Washington, D.C., where the terrorists dealt their third blow, and worked with volunteers from the Red Cross and other religious organizations throughout the nights following the attack.

Scientology Volunteer Ministers have served for years alongside disaster relief agencies, government emergency offices and paramedics internationally. They have come to the aid of tens of thousands after devastating earthquakes, including those in Sakhalin, Los Angeles, Mexico City, Colombia, Japan and Turkey; hurricanes in the United States, Puerto Rico and Nicaragua; the tidal wave in Papua, New Guinea; floods and other natural disasters. They have helped the victims of man-made disasters including the 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma, and war-torn regions of Kosovo and Chechnya.

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 witnessed from the September 11 terrorist attack on America.

They responded, and will continue to respond, to cataclysms as well as to the smaller disasters of everyday living. Scientology Volunteer Ministers act in a much broader capacity on a day to day basis, using a wide range of skills to help friends, associates and strangers to resolve disputes, repair broken relationships, increase literacy of children and adults, help work associates failing in their jobs and countless other circumstances.

Al Buttnor, spokesperson for the Church of Scientology, said training in the fundamental skills 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,” he said.

To find out more about becoming a Volunteer Minister, or for more information, contact Raphael Francoeur at 416-968-0070.

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