Sunday, May 26, 2013

Four Words & 12 Years

We met for a brief moment at a local Starbucks in Valencia, California- one month after the tragic events of 9/11/01. Steve Berkery was assigned to LAFD USAR Task Force and had just returned from a tour of duty at Ground Zero, Manhattan. I asked him what moved him the most and he told me it was one FDNY Firefighter's four words, "Please don't forget us."

These four words led me to attempt something that has never been done--design a tribute patch and try and get all firefighters to add it to their uniforms. The 9/11 Patch Project was born and the attempt to notify and get all fire departments on board, began in December of 2001. Funds raised from the sale of the $3 patches would benefit the FDNY's Uniformed Firefighters Association. After 6 months of selling the patches, $15,000 was raised and sent to the UFA on the 1 year anniversary of 9/11. Our initial costs were $18,000 for mailers and about $1.75 per patch. In addition to my full time firefighter/paramedic position, I worked about 40 additional hours per week for nearly 6 months, filling 25-50 orders each day. Orders ranged from many 1-2  patch orders to as many as 500 in one order. By the way, the 500 patch order came from a Hong Kong Fire Officer who bought them for many of his firefighters in China!

Nearly 12 years later, there are over 10,000 organizations in 30 countries that have stepped up to participate in the project. This includes firefighters (domestic and abroad) and deployed U.S. Troops. Photos of firefighters and soldiers were sent in over the years by those proud to count themselves among those who would make a promise to Never Forget.

Even though I was a firefighter reacting to the loss of 343 brothers, it made sense to create a patch with a firefighter, police officer and soldier on it for the 5-year anniversary date of 9/11. Decals, pins, and even a 9/11 Challenge Coin was created later to provide more fund raising merchandise.

How did we survive 12 years?  Aside from the 1st 9 months of fund raising, sales for the 9/11 themed fund
raising merchandise have been very sporadic. So, other fund raising projects needed to be designed and implemented to both raise funds for 9/11 related organizations and for the 9/11 Patch Project Fund; our own fund that was put in place August of 2011 so that we can keep our project running. The 10 Yr 9-11 Manhattan to Manhattan Bus tour was created as a fund raising 10 yr anniversary awareness trip across the United States. The tour ran 9 months--18,000 miles--176 stops and our major sponsor, Fire Careers, drove the bus and met with firefighters and citizens at every stop. $20,000 was raised despite the bus arriving in areas met with some of our nation's largest and most destructive disasters--including Joplin, MO, where the large 40 foot bus had to run for cover. The 9/11 Bus arrived in D.C. in time for the earthquake and in New York right when the hurricane hit Manhattan.

How can you help? We depend heavily on our $911 Sponsor program to keep the project afloat--problem is, many say they will step up and sponsor and few actually do. The program started during the 9/11 Bus trip where we picked up Chicago Firefighters, Philadelphia Firefighters, Baltimore Firefighters, Cataret Firefighters and Northrop Grumman, among others, as $911 Sponsors.

Back then, we put our sponsor logos on the side of the giant bus and thousands would see them as it traveled across the U.S. for months. Today, we do things a bit differently. You see, we feel if you are willing to step up and help us out, we are willing to promote your organization from our website, blog, newsletters, 4 Facebook pages, press releases, trade shows and Twitter. It is no secret that our promotion works--we have plenty of testimonials we can send those with cold feet. Many will still spend thousands for trade magazine ad's when they can spend far less with us and get tons more promotion.

The 9/11 Patch Project is the largest, longest running and farthest reaching firefighter owned 9/11 project in the world. We are proud to make that claim and hope that you consider helping us continue to do great work all over the world to remember the heroes of 9/11. We need heroes too--become ours HERE.

Brett Hill- Former Firefighter/Paramedic & Founder
9/11 Patch Project

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