Thursday, December 26, 2013

9/11 Through Allies Eye

Allie Hill
She's 19, blind in one eye, thinks like an 8 year old, has short flat thumbs and toes, and other so called abnormalities. But to us, she is our daughter and we could never imagine any other version of Allie. Ask her what 9/11 means to her and she will tell you, " 9/11 is when planes flew into buildings and killed a lot of people." But she knows so much more...

About Allie: At birth, the doctors told us she would be blind, unable to talk, unable to walk-speak-or even read. One doctor, who was also a good friend of ours, thought it best if we think about institutionalizing Allie to save our marriage. Some friend!

We spent the first two years just trying to keep Allie alive. At one year, Allie was just a little bigger than her birth weight and failed to thrive. We fought every day to keep food in her and watched her every movement. Allie was my wife's new full devotion in life as she had to quit her job. We pulled out all the stops to insure our daughter had the best chance at as much of a "normal" life as possible.With my 48 hour schedule at the fire department, I spent many of my off days with her as well. It was truly a team effort.

With around the clock physical, speech and other necessary therapists, she began to grow and thrive. It took 3 years but she crawled--it took 5 years but she walked--it took 7 years but she talked. We even had her plugged into Equestrian Therapy which helped her develop and overcome the hurtles typical with special needs development. 

It used to bother me when people starred. Yes she looked different and not so "normal" but who is really normal anyway? It bothered me because she was my daughter and I loved her so much. I guess people did not see what we saw. 

She was diagnosed with Rubinstein-Taybi Syndrome at birth and many of these rare (1 in 300,000) special needs children had many abnormalities including; blindness, digital defects, microcephally, significant mental delays and other issues similar to downs syndrome. 

Allie grew to read, write and have pretty normal conversations with people. In fact at times, if it wasn't for how people viewed her, she would fit in pretty well. She is a miracle and all the hard work and determination has paid off!

Back to 9/11: Allie was about 7 when September 11, 2001 came. She sat in the bed between my wife and I and saw the 2nd plane hit the WTC towers. She saw us cry and began crying. She may not have realized what was happening but she shared our emotions. As we saw the first tower fall, Allie watched it with us. She hadn't fully developed her speech at that point in her life but was able to ask the question, "Daddy was there people in that building?" 

Having witnessed the death of 1000's of people and knowing there were also brother firefighters in the buildings, I held her tight and tried my best to explain what she saw.  She knew what death was when we told her that my mother and father had both died before she was born. But this was very different to her. For the first time she had actually seen buildings full of people fall and she knew....she understood the finality.

Shortly after the tragic events of 9/11, I began the 9-11 Patch Project as my reaction and vision of hope. Being a firefighter on the west coast, I felt far removed. Knowing others would feel the same way, the 9-11 Patch became a way to remember my brother firefighters lost that day and to help others around the world unite. The project would also become a way to raise funds and share the proceeds with organizations that would develop post-9/11. Allie stood by me as the project grew to include the participation of over 10,000 organizations around the world. She was there asking questions and helping all these years.

Allie grew up with the 9-11 Patch Project and with 9/11. Having run this project for 12 years of her life, she now understands what the patches, decals and other memorial items are about. In fact, she probably knows more about 9/11 than most people out there.

Today, over 12 years since we cried together in front of the TV, she knows beyond the tragedy of 9/11 that a glimmer of light shines. She knows the Firefighters, EMT's, Police Officers, U.S,. Soldiers and innocent civilians are being remembered. She no longer remembers planes flying into buildings or crashing to the ground--she remembers the victims and knows her daddy is willing to do whatever it takes to make sure they are always remembered.

Monday, December 16, 2013

9-11 Patch Project Hits Twelve Year Mark

2001 Unveiling of new 9-11 Patch to honor the FDNY 343
December 15th, 2013, marked the 12th anniversary of the 9-11 Patch Project. As the photo shows, the design for a uniform patch that 1st Responders could wear to honor the fallen, was unveiled to the FDNY Thank You America Tour, as it ended in Pasadena, California.

6 FDNY bike riders from the Bowery's 33-Engine, who lost 12 of their own, made this 2800 mile trip across America to thank American's for their outpouring of love and support. Their tour ended in Pasadena (west coast) about 1 mile from the 9-11 Patch Project founders station.

Aligning the project with the FDNY and getting their blessing was founder Brett Hill's 1st priority. Two months from the date of this ceremony and when the photo was taken, December 15th, the project began taking orders from fire departments and other organizations around the nation. Orders for the patch would come in to the Valencia project headquarters at 25-50 per day for about 6 months. By the 1st anniversary date of September 11 or 9-11-02, $15,000 arrived in the FDNY Uniformed Firefighters office. This was the net proceeds of selling the $3 patches.

Over the past 12 years, the project grew to include all 1st Responders and our U.S. Military. To date, there are over 10,000 organizations in 30 countries participating. The project also added other patches, decals, a challenge coin, memorial shield and other memorial items.

Beyond the fund raising from the merchandise, other events were held to benefit charities like The Bravest
Scholarship Fund, Terry Farrell Fund and the Feal Good Foundation. The 10 yr 9-11 Manhattan to Manhattan Tour, with FireCareers as the major sponsor, was a large 9-11 Bus that traveled from Manhattan Beach in California to Manhattan NY in 9 months. The tour brought about awareness of the 10 year mark and raised funds at the 275 stops in 30 U.S. States.

The Fully Involved Comedy Tour, featuring comedian Ralphie May, was held in Baltimore during the Firehouse Expo in July of 2012.

Today, with 9-11 a little over 12 years behind us, the 9-11 Patch Project continues to perpetuate the memory of the fallen heroes of 9-11 and raise funds whenever possible. It's tough to keep this project in the minds of folks twelve years later, but the 9-11 Patch Project continues to do it's best. Without the support of so many out there, we would not be around today.

In closing, our latest event is a fund raiser to give the 9-11 Patches to all 11,000 members of the FDNY. This will cost about $15,000 and we are on our way with $983 raised by 23 donors in the past 20 days. With thousands around the world wearing the patch, it makes sense to include the very firefighters who's tragic loss on that day became the inspiration for this project. We don't want any of them to have to pay for these patches. Those who step up are rewarded with patches and challenge coins and their names will go in each patch donation letter that is sent to the FDNY. If you'd like to be part of this great event, please follow this link: 

Thanks to all of you who have supported this project so many years! We appreciate you all as I'm sure the families of the fallen heroes do. More about the project HERE