This was a special Christmas at the 9-11HelpAmerica Foundation, special because we continued what we did last year. As a foundation you have to do something worthwhile for your beneficiaries, I would think...and we wanted to keep the things going that we have done in the past, and continue to build on that for the future.
In other words, if something works and people like it, keep doing it and improve on it. If it doesnít work, and people really donít care, scrap it and go on to the next idea. Our first Christmas we only had three families with a total of three children. We managed to scrape up $750.00 which we sent to them for Christmas...started very simply and finished just as simply. The following year, 2005, we really did well, and to make matters better, a very popular Country Western band hosted an evening to benefit our foundation and we made what was already pretty good a little better. We made some calls, told the ladies we had a little money for Christmas, asked what the kids wanted, to give us an idea or some sort of list, etc. Some were very happy and forthright with the Christmas list; with others it was like pulling teeth. But at the end of the day we had our list, went shopping, and then did the wrapping and shipping. They got the presents in time for Christmas, said a lot of nice things about the Foundation; we were happy and looked forward to doing it again. Another happy ending within very unhappy times. So now we have a Christmas program and something to build on.
Now itís 2006 we have a larger commitment than we had before. We have more families now and now have also added Wounded Warriors to our group. Therefore we have to have more ways of raising money and, therefore, you need more people. We had been relying on Golf and a few donations only, but thanks to Candice Hodges and a few friends who wanted to have a Poker Tournament which we did in May 2006, we now have an Annual Poker Tournament...another something to build on. Then in September we had our Annual Golf tournament. It did OK, not great but OK, enough to keep things going for a while, and before we knew it, it was Thanksgiving and WOW!!! Christmas again.
Have to admit we got started a little late this year. We thought we would do a carbon copy of last year and carry on, but just when you think you have a system, something new pops up and you are off in a totally different direction. We sent out word that it was Christmas time again at 9/11HAF and asked who would be able to contribute to our 2006 Christmas program and in short order we received commitments totaling $4,600.00. Not as much as last yearís but respectable and with that we could divide that evenly per family and at least get the kids something nice for Christmas. We also were planning another Christmas music event and continued to build on that. In addition, this Christmas we were also looking forward to meeting some of our families who were coming here to Orange County to take part in the Snowball Express, so it was a big December this year.
It seems a fellow name Mike Kerr had come up with this hair brain idea of bringing to Disneyland as many surviving spouses and their kids as he could find, a fabulous weekend. Mike Kerr believe it or not, was going to get Southwest Airlines and a few others to fly in families for free or sponsored, get major hotels, Marriott, Sheraton, Westin and others to put them up for several nights, get the Crystal Cathedral to host a dinner in their honor and invite them to their Christmas show, get major sponsors like Oakley to host the families for a fun filled afternoon...a huge undertaking. As the time was nearing I was very much looking forward to meeting our mothers and their kids. Many had signed up and we knew they would be here. I got a phone call from Julie Leib.
I knew Julie only over the phone, but I knew she was very involved in helping the surviving spouses and kids. She had a personal reason for wanting to help; her own niece had lost her husband in Iraq. She asked me if I would help her greet some of the families that were coming to the event and would be landing at LAX. I thought for a second and said of course, what a wonderful opportunity and a privilege it would be, then I asked her how many people. She said about 180 to 200 and they are coming in on eight different airlines and terminals. Thatís cool... Then I asked her how many other people do you have, and she said right now just you... We pretty much dropped everything we had been working on and began looking for volunteers. She also said that we had no buses either, that the bus company had bailed out at the last minute and now we have no buses and did I know where we could get some buses. To make a long story short, we spent all week lining up volunteers. Julie found the buses and that Friday, she had the control center with all the buses we needed, and I had 12 people working the LAX terminals and believe it or not, everybody got to where they were supposed to be. The Snowball Express had arrived in LA and a bunch of 9/11HAF folk where there to greet them.
It was a marvelous weekend for these families; they began with a dinner and show at the Crystal Cathedral. The next day followed with a full blown party at the Oakley facility in Orange County. They were greeted by people on the streets waving welcome signs and flags...a very emotional and heartwarming sight. Oakley pulled out all the stops to make them feel welcome. They brought out many of their athletes to show the kids how to extremely ride a bike or a skate board. Tony Hawk and other world class guys came out to be there with the kids that afternoon.
Later that day a shopping spree at the Spectrum Shopping Mall. The next day Disneyland, and the next day the Ducks for hockey... An incredible weekend thanks to many people, but primarily Mike Kerr and his impossible, incredible idea that he actually made happened.
Thatís what happened to us this Christmas. By the time we got done with Snowball Express week we didnít have time to go shopping, wrap all the gift and ship them in time to get them there for Christmas...so we decided that the next best thing would be to send money and tell mom to buy something for the kids from all of us at 9/11HAF. We sent $250.00 on average to 16 families with a total of 27 kids. So our Christmas program didnít work out exactly as we first thought, but it ended very well, we were able to meet our families for the first time...thanks to the Snowball Express.
That is our Christmas Story 2006. Hope that we can improve on that next year. The coming year has many challenges; weíll do our best to rise to each occasion and hope to be able to say at the end of 2007, "Thatís our 2007 Christmas story!" God Bless you and yours and thank you for your contribution to making this Christmas the best one so far. In 2004 we had 3 families and 3 kids. This year we had 16 families and 27 kids all because of you guys who helped financially and physically, and in many cases both.