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Sept. 11 aid groups close, adapt as money wanes

/ Source: The Associated Press

Nonprofit support groups created after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks are struggling to stay afloat as donations have dried up nearly seven years after hijackers flew the planes into the Twin Towers.

Several are closing, some are cutting budgets and others are rethinking their purpose as donors become harder to persuade.

"We fight every day for money," said Terry Grace Sears, whose charity counseling the youngest relatives of those killed in the attacks cut its staff by a third last year to 11 people.

The groups, which offer everything from counseling to music lessons, have long relied on funding from an American Red Cross long-term relief fund that distributed more than $1 billion in direct aid and recovery grants to over 100 organizations.

But on June 30, the Red Cross distributed its last $40 million to 26 groups it still funded. Two groups have grants that last a few more months.

"We have no more money to award," said Joan Hernandez, deputy director of the Red Cross' Sept. 11 recovery program. The program used to have nearly 300 employees and now has two, she said. "We will be gone at the end of the year."

The last grants included $1.37 million to South Nassau Communities Hospital on Long Island, which shut down counseling programs for thousands of family members and first responders when the Red Cross funding expired. One of those programs, the World Trade Center Family Center, recently changed its name to 9/11 Forward to help participants look to the future.

The nonprofit New York Disaster Interfaith Services is ending its Sept. 11 program on Oct. 31, said Scottie Hill, the program's director of disaster recovery and advocacy services. The program manages the cases of 300 survivors and first responders, primarily with health issues. More than 50 new clients a month call for services but the organization can't take them, Hill said.

Most private foundations say they are no longer funding Sept. 11 programs, Hill said.

"The public at large really does think ... why haven't people moved on," Hill said. "There's also a population of people who have been very active in 9/11 recovery that know that this is very real."

Programs treating ailing ground zero workers exposed to toxic dust can still seek funding from Congress and state and city government, but counseling and community programs don't have that option.

The groups say they still are needed.

Dr. Minna Barrett, a psychologist who ran programs for the World Trade Center Family Center, said first responders in particular repressed their trauma and waited years before seeking support.

"People sort of build walls around it," she said. "It's a culture that doesn't orient people to seeking help. Responders are supposed to be tough."

Barrett warned her clients of the center's closing, and encouraged them to continue to meet in peer support groups. More than 6,000 families and first responders have been served by the programs, including nearly 700 the past year.