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Volunteers turn Sept. 11 pain into pride

Thousands of people heeded the call by President Barack Obama and Congress to observe Sept. 11 by volunteering. Here is a sample of events around the country.
Sept 11 Anniversary National Day of Service
Roberta Laughlin pitches in Friday to help spread mulch and spruce up Kilbourne Park's community gardens in Chicago. Volunteers across America participated in the National Day of Service on the eighth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the U.S. M. Spencer Green / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Thousands of people heeded the call by President Barack Obama and Congress to observe Sept. 11 by volunteering. Here is a sample of events around the country.

In Chicago, Betty Johnson spread mulch in a community garden Friday as a way to stave off a renewed sense of the helplessness that swept over her as she watched the World Trade Center crumble on television eight years ago.

"I feel helpful, not hopeless," said Johnson, 46. "This makes me feel special."

Roberta Laughlin, 46, echoed that as she dumped a wheelbarrow's worth of mulch on the organic garden, where volunteers were taking part in the day of service.

"This takes something that was obviously a horrible tragedy," she said. "Something good can come out of it."

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, who joined 20 or so volunteers, also said as much.

"Closely tied to remembering is the feeling all Americans had of wanting to do something very shortly after the realization of what that day, that horrible day, had come to mean for so many of our fellow Americans," she told the group.

Care packages for soldiers
In Boston, dozens of volunteers made their way from table to table Friday, loading up boxes on the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway, a series of parks in downtown.

"Dude, you rock my socks!" Becca Weast wrote in a note to a soldier.

"I hope what's here can hold you for a bit," the 22-year-old wrote of the cartons of hand sanitizer, cookies, phone cards and other supplies packed in priority-mail boxes. "Get your booty home safe."

Weast's care package was on its way to a soldier in Iraq or Afghanistan as part of an event organized by the Massachusetts Military Heroes Fund, which helps families of service members killed since the 2001 attacks.

The group was founded with the support of the families of Sept. 11 victims and with the son of the park's namesake, the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, who initiated the movement to make the anniversary a day of service.

The packages might be a small comfort to lonely service members, Weast said, adding, "I wish I could give more."

A birthday girl at work
In Buffalo, N.Y., students at Buffalo Academy of Science Charter School spent the day painting the gym and cafeteria or planting flowers at Cazenovia Park.

Student Char Hardy has grown accustomed to her happy birthdays being tempered by the country's sad memories. She turned 6 on Sept. 11, 2001. She turned 14 on Friday.

"Since I'm always in school on my birthday, I've always had to remember it and pay tribute," she said during a day of service.

She hasn't minded. She was happy to sing the national anthem to open the day.

"Just to sing the national anthem anywhere, no matter what — it can be at a baseball game, it can be in school," she said. "I'm proud of my country and it's a complete honor to sing that song."

In a hall scented with fresh paint and cut lumber, noisy with the excited chatter of kids free from book work, Hardy said she would be proud to spend her birthdays in service.

"It's good to pay tribute to families," especially those of the first responders to the attacks, said the ninth-grader, who hopes to perform with the Rockettes and study forensic science.

"It was one of the most heroic things, I personally think, that was done since war times, like the Civil War."